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f^2 pi SlORf OF' 
OLD M.AMTOCI«^^^^^^ 

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A Brief History of the Island and its People 
from its Discovery Down to the Present Day 






CopjTri^ht 1915, by William F. Macy 


Cook & Turner. 

JUN 30iJI5 


To the cherished memory of those ancestors of ours, 

who, by their enterprise, energy and industry, 

made this little town the 

greatest whaling port in the woild, 

the author dedicates 

"The Story of Old Nantucket." 



.iHE oft-quoted scriptural saying, "Of the making 
i/ of many books there is no end," applies with par- 
ticular force to Nantucket. Her bibliography is already 
extenaive. Why, then, yet another book? My ex- 
cuse is that, with all the books, there is none which 
tells the story of Nantucket's past briefly, yet with 
some completeness, and in a way which appeals to the 
casual tourist or summer visitor, who, while wanting 
to know something of the historic background of the 
island, has neither the time nor the taste for documents 
and records or the study of statistics. 

I believe there is some demand for such a book, 
which I have tried to meet. My modest offering makes 
no pretensions to being a work of original research, 
though I have carefully studied all the authorities 
available, and I acknowledge my deep indebtedness to 
all previous writers on the subject. For my facts and 
figures I have drawn freely, as occasion required, from 
all reliable sources, but the story is something more 
than a mere compilation of extracts and excerpts from 
other works, and without attempting to treat the sub- 
ject exhaustively, I have selected those episodes and 
events which have seemed to me most salient and most 
likely to prove of interest. 

It may be that the book will be distinguished more 

for v/hat is omitted than for what is included, but it 
may perhaps stimulate the reader's interest as an in- 
troduction to and an appetizer for the more substantial 
repasts which await him. 

To those more leisurely students, whose appetites 
may be thus whetted to pursue the subject further, I 
recommend the perusal of Obed Macy's "History of 
Nantucket," Alexander Starbuck's "History of the 
American Whale Fishery, " Lydia S.Hinchman's "Early 
Settlers of Nantucket," William Root Bliss's "Quaint 
Nantucket," Henry S. Wyer's "Sea Girt Nantucket," 
and Dr. K. A. Douglas-Lithgow's valuable work, 
"Nantucket: a History," published last year; also all 
the bulletins and publications of the Nantucket Histor- 
ical Association, especially those on "Nantucket Lands 
and Land Owners," by Henry B. Worth. 

My book is produced at a popular price and in a 
handy form and size, which may be slipped in the pock- 
et and read in an idle hour on the hotel veranda, on the 
beach, or while traveling by the 'Sconset express. 

W. F. M. 

Boston, May, 1915. 

Afar from the strife of the great world's life 
Lies the isle that my boyhood knew. 

From cape to cape is her hammock shape 
Swung out on the ocean's blue. 

On her peaceful breast is a realm of rest 

For the weary ones of earth, 
And to all who reach her tranquil beach 

She giveth a newer birth. 

In her balmy air is a perfume rare 
As from neavenly gardens blown, 

While in Summer hours bloom myriad flowers 
On her moorlands weird and lone. 

H. S. W. 
Copyright by H. S. Wyer. 




^1 HE story of Nantucket, like all stories worth relat- 
yf ing, is the story of a people — of a simple, sturdy 
race and their descendants, who settled and subdued 
this little island wilderness, and developed here from 
email beginnings a type of civilization which has rarely 
if ever been excelled in a like period of time in all his- 

When, in the light of our modern advantages, we 
reflect upon the handicaps under which these people la- 
bored ; when we realize how limited were their resourc- 
es; when we see this barren soil, yielding its fruits 
only to the most arduous and untiring industry; when 
we contemplate this relentless ocean surrounding us on 
all sides, ever ready to rise in its might to rend and 
destroy the results of man's puny efforts to bend it to 
his purposes; when we think of this rigorous climate, 
eternally aiding and abetting the soil and the sea in 
their blind attempts to frustrate the best-laid plans to 
circumvent and ovei'come them — when we consider and 
take thought of these things, we who trace our ancestry 


back to thocc hardy pioneers who came, saw and con- 
quered in spite of all, may well take a pardonable pride 
in their accomplishment, while we marvel at their 
courage, their resource, their energy and their infinite 

And yet^they were but human, like the rest of 
us, just ordinary every-day folks; and they had their 
faults, their follies and their frailties, as well as their 
virtues. Let us not forget that, for viewed in that 
light, what they did, what they were and what they 
accomplished has far greater significance for us than if, 
as we are so prone to do, we make demi-gods of them 
and attribute to them qualities of body, mind, heart or 
soul which we ourselves do not, at least potentially, 
possess. No one can study in a sympathetic spirit the 
history of the early times on the island without recog- 
nizing the fact that here, as elsev/here, the same eter- 
nal motives of greed of gain, worldly ambition and love 
of power, bigotry and prejudice, individual likes and 
dislikes, loves and hates, and all the other ideas and 
passions and purposes which actuate us all today in our 
relations with our fellow-men, were quite as much in 
evidence in our ancestors, though possibly somewhat 
more modified and tempered by their hope of reward or 
fear of punishment in the life to come, than may be the 
case in this materialistic age. 

When, two hundred and fifty years ago, Tristram 
Coffin and John Gardner fought for supremacy in thfe 
councils of the Island, they used much the same meth- 
ods and weapons as a couple of local petty bosses might 
employ in this year of our Lord; and though they did 


make up finally and agreed, for the sake of harmony, 
to bury the hatchet, such an outcome is not quite un- 
known even now. 

So it is only by accepting these characters at their 
true value and not at any fictitious estimate of their 
worth, based on tradition-strengthened-by-time-and- rep- 
etition, that we can really put ourselves in their posi- 
tion and appreciate our debt to them. 

With this preliminary introduction to our ancestors 
— the only excuse for which is a theory of the writer, 
who claims descent from nearly if not quite all of 
them, that this point of view, though hinted at by oth- 
er writers, has hardly been sufficiently emphasized even 
yet — and with the announcement of an honest and sin- 
cere purpose to deal with our forbears with all the fore- 
bearance to which they are entitled — and no more — the 
story begins. 

Nantucket was probably "discovered" many times 
before it was finally put on the map and settled by 
white men. Modern Irish writers have recently entered 
a claim to the discovery of the Western world by voy- 
agers from the Emerald Isle even before the Norse- 
men's more or less we 11 -authenticated voyages to this 
section. There is little doubt that the Norsemen saw 
Nantucket on one or more of those voyages — probably 
before the end of the tenth century ; and as there is no 
very strong evidence distinguishing any one spot from 
a number of others as the legendary "Winland dat 
Code," or the good vine-land, except the abundance of 
wild grapes — for which our island has been I'amous 


since the time whereof the memory of man runneth not 
to the contrary — Nantucket might even add its claim to 
those already filed as being the abode for a brief time 
during the year 1000 A. D. of that venturesome vik- 
ing, Leif Erikson, though the present writer would not 
care to be understood as seriously advancing such claim. 
In 1497 and 1498 John and Sebastian Cabot ex- 
plored the coast of the North American continent from 
the Gulf of Mexico to Labrador, and the early English 
claim to most of the Atlantic seaboard was based on 
the discoveries and explorations made during this voy- 
age. It is hardly conceivable that the Cabots could 
have missed seeing Nantucket, and it is probable that 
they passed quite near it. 

Whatever credit attaches to the actual discovery 
of the island, is, however, usually awarded to Captain 
Bartholomew Gosnold, who sailed in the barque Con- 
cord from Falmouth, England, on March 26, 1602- — 
more than a century after the voyage of the Cabots — 
with a crew and company of thirty-two men, including 
one Gabriel Archer, from whose account of the voyage 
we learn that Gosnold discovered and named Cape Cod 
from the "great store of codfish" they took there. 
That was on May 15th, 1602, about seven weeks out 
from port — not a bad voyage for the season of the year 
and in view of what we may surmise as to the size, 
model, rig and equipment of the Concord. On the 
following day. Archer relates, they "trended the coast 
southerly twelve leagues from Cape Cod, saw a point 
with some beach, named it Point Care. May 18, sight- 
ed another point, called it Gilbert's Point; also divers 


islands, Indians in canoes with skins, tobacco and pipes 
to barter," etc. "Point Care" was doubtless Mono- 
moy Point, Chatham, and "Gilbert's Point" has been 
identified as Point Gammon, at the easterly entrance to 
Hyannis Harbor. 

This would seem to fix the discovery fairly accu- 
rately, as we may well assume that Nantucket was one 
of the divers islands seen on May 18th, after passing 
Monomoy. Obed Macy says, without giving the date or 
any authority for his conclusion, that Gosnold "pursued 
his course southerly until he came up with Sandy Point, 
the southern extremity of the County of Barnstable. 

It being late in the day, to avoid danger he 

stood off to sea, and in the night came in sight of the 
white clifl^s at the east end of Nantucket, now called 
Sankota Head." Dr. Lithgow goes even further and 
states that in June or July, 1602, Gosnold landed at 
Sankaty. While both historians may have had access 
to authorities with which the writer is not familiar, so 
far as he has been able to discover from the document- 
ary evidence available to him, there seems to be noth- 
ing to give either statement any standing higher than 
that of conjecture, or at best, probability. Elsewhere 
Dr. Lithgow, who is a careful and conscientious histo- 
rian, quotes Samuel Adams Drake as authority for cer- 
tain statements. Mr. Drake's "Nooks and Corners of 
the New England Coast" is a most entertaining book, 
but its author manages to compress such a surprising 
amount of misinformation within the limits of a very 
brief article on Nantucket as to seriously discredit any 


statements contained therein not supported by other 

The point is of little importance, however, and it 
is not this writer's intention to be controversial or to 
criticize other students much better fitted by tempera- 
ment and training than he for the task in hand. He 
simply wishes to avoid jumping at conclusions from in- 
sufficient data, as well as the repetition without veriti- 
cation of possible errors, which, if repeated often 
enough, may in time come to have the earmarks of ver- 
similitude. The whole subject is so obscure and the 
documentary evidence so incomplete and contradictory, 
that almost any statement as to the events prior to the 
actual settlement of the island must needs be qualified 
by the word "probably," and an individual opinion is 
of value proportionate only to the reputation and 
standing of its sponsor as a student and historian. 
Claiming no such distinction, or other qualification be- 
yond a sincere desire to set down only what is actually 
established beyond reasonable doubt, the writer there- 
fore frankly dodges the issue, and respectfully refers the 
curious reader to the various authorities on the subject, 
with the hope that after a careful examination thereof 
he may at the end know at least as much about it as he 
did at the beginning. 



^f*^VENTS moved slowly in those days; a century then 
iW was as a decade later on so far as actual prog- 
ress in the settlement and development of the New 
World was concerned. So it is perhaps not surprising 
that another forty years elapsed before we hear much 
of anything more about Nantucket. Gradually, howev- 
er, it began to be differentiated from others of the "di- 
vers islands," though sometimes scarcely recognizable 
under the various aliases of Nauticon, Nantican, Na- 
tocks, Nantock, Nantukes, Mantukes, Nantoket. Nan- 
tockyte, Nantucquet, Nantuckett, and so on — each nar- 
rator, conveyancer or cartographer apparently adopting 
an original spelling of his own. 

Little is known of this period between the reputed 
discovery and the settlement. It has been asserted and 
repeated by various writers that there were at some 
time upward of three thousand Indians on the island, 
but there seems to be no better basis for such an esti- 
mate than for those advanced by other authorities plac- 
ing the probable number at fifteen hundred, five hundred 
or any other figure. It is only known that the island 
was fairly well populated by the red men at the time of 
its settlement by the whites. 

There is a tradition of an Indian war, which was 


supposed to have been waged somewhere about 1630, 
between the tribes at the northeastern part of the 
islanc] under the sachem Wauwinct, and those of the 
southwesterly section under Autopscot. A beautiful 
legend survives of a reconciliation effected between 
those belligerent chiefs through the romantic love affair 
of Autopscot and a daughter of Wauwinet named Wono- 
ma, who, being versed in medicine and the art of heal- 
ing the sick, had, on a former occasion when the tribes 
were at peace, rendered valuable aid to Autospcot'r! 
people in staying a pestilence which had broken out 
among them. Touched with gratitude for this service, 
so freely rendered, as well as by the beauty and charm 
of tlie noble Indian maiden, Autopscot had laid seige to 
her affections and had won her secret promise to return 
again soon as his bride. 

When later the two tribes were at war, Wonoma's 
heart was torn 'twixt love and duty, and having by 
chance learned the plan of a proposed attack by her 
father's warriors upon those of Autopscot, she journ- 
eyed secretly at night to her lover, and gave him warn- 
ing. Wauwinet, finding his enemy prepared, withheld 
his attack, and on the follov/ing day Autopscot sought 
out Wauwinet and sued for peace and for his daughter's 
hand at the same time. At first Wauwinet was very 
angry, but he gradually relented, and finally became 
reconciled to his enemy and accepted him as a son-in- 

This legend is very charmingly told in blank verse 
in the Hiawatha metre by Miss Charlotte V. Baxter, 
first published in the Nantucket Inquirer and Mirror 


about 1876, and reprinted in the same paper Januarj' 
21, 1911. 

In 1641, James Forrett, as agent for Lord Sterling, 
to whom all the lands between Cape Cod and the 
Hudson River had been granted by the Crown, sold 
"the island of Nantuckett and two other small islands 
adjacent" (presumably Tuckernuck and Muskeget) 
to Thomas Mayhew of Watertown, merchant, and to 
Thomas Mayhew, his son. The consideration, as set 
forth in the deed, was such a yearly acknowledg- 
ment "as shall be thought fit by John Winthrop 
the Eld'r Esq'r or any Two Magistrates in the Massa- 
chusetts Bay, being chosen for that End and purpose by 
the Hon'ble the Lord Sterling or his deputy, and by the 
said Thomas Mayhew and Thomas Mayhew his son, or 
Their Associates." 

Eighteen years later, July 2,1659, Mayhew senior 
gave the oft-quoted deed to the nine original proprie- 
tors, which, as it marks the beginning of Nantucket's 
actual history, so far as the white race is concerned, is 
once more reprinted in full as follows: 

Copy of Deed of Nantucket to Nine Purchasers 

[Dated July 2, IRGO] 

Recorded for Mr. Coffin and Mr. Macy afores'd, ye 
Day and Year afores'd. 

Be it known unto all men by these Presents that 
I, Thomas Mayhew of Martha's Vineyard, Merchant, 
doe hereby acknowledge that I have sould unto Tristram 
Coffin, Thomas Macy, Christopher Hussey, Richard 
Swayne, Thomas Bernard, Peter Coffin, Stephen Green- 
leaf e, John Swayne, and William Pike that Right and 
Interest I have in ye Land of Nantuckett by Patent : ye 
wch Right I bought of James Forrett, Gent, and Stew- 


ard to ye Lord Sterling and of Richard Vines, some- 
times of Sacho.Gent., Steward-Gen'ell unto Sir Georges 
Knight as by Conveyances under their Hands and Seales 
doe appeare, ffor them ye aforesaid to Injoy, and their 
Heyres and Assignes forever vv'th ail the Privileges 
thereunto belonging, for in consideration of ye Sume of 
Thirty Pounds of Current Pay unto whomsoever I ye said 
Thomas IVIayhew, mine Heyres or Assines shall appoint. 

And also two Beaver Hatts one for myself and one 
for my wife. 

And further this is to declare that I the said 
Thomas Mayhev/ have received to myself that Neck up- 
on Nantucket called Masquetuck or that Neck of Land 
called Nashayte the Neck (but one) northerly of Mas- 
quetuck ye aforesaid Sayle in anywise notwithstanding. 

And further, I ye said Thomas Mayhew am to 
beare my Part of the Charge of ye said Purchase above 
named, and to hold one twentieth Part of all Lands 
purchased already, or shall be hereafter purchased upon 
ye said Island by ye afores'd Purchai>'r>; or Heyres or 
Assignes forever. 

BrieHy : It is thus: That I really sold all my Pa- 
tent to ye aforesaid nine men and they are to pay mee 
or whomsoever I shall appoint them, ye sume of Thirty 
Pounds in good Marchantable Pay in ye Massachusetts, 
under wch Governm't they now Inhabit, and 2 Beaver 
Hatts, and I am to beare a 20th Part of ye Charge of 
ye Purchase, and to have a 20th Part of all Lands and 
Privileges; and to have wch of ye Necks afors'd that 
1 will myselfe, paying for it; only ye Pui-chasers are 
to pay what ye Sachem is to have for Mascjuetuek, al- 
though 1 have ye other Neck. 

And in witness hereof I have hereunto sett my 
Hand and Seale this second Day of July sixteen hun- 
dred and fifty nine — (1659) 

Per me 
Witness: John Smith Tho. Mayhew. 

Edward Searle. 


No titles to lands based on the royal grants were 
recognized as legal until confirmed by subsequent releas- 
es of the Indian sachem rights, so the proprietors at 
once set about securing such, as will appear. Mayhe\v 
had undoubtedly had some understanding with certain 
of the sachems as to buying their rights, and the first 
Indian deed runs to him, antedating his deed to the nine 
proprietors by twelve days. This deed was from Nick- 
anoose (son of Wauwinet) and Nanahuma, and conveys, 
for a consideration of twelve pounds, "the plain at the 
West end of Nantucket," and also "the use of the 
meadow and to take wood for the use of him, the said 

On May 10th, 1660, " Wanackmamack and Nicka- 
noose, head sachems of Nantucket island," conveyed to 
Mayhew and the nine to whom he had sold the island, 
"all the Land, Meadow, Marshes, Timber, Wood and 
all the appurtenances thereunto belonging and being and 
lying from the West end of the island of Nantucket 
unto the Pond called by the Indians Waqutuquab, and 
from the head of that pond, upon a straight line unto 
the Pond situated by Monomoy Harbor or Creek, nov/ 
called V/heeler's Creek, and so from the Northeast cor- 
ner of the said Pond to the sea" also "the 

one half of the remainder of the meadows and marshes 
upon all other parts of the island." 

This deed was not witnessed until January 17th, 
1664, and the acknowledgment by Matthew Mayhew, 
Secretary to the General Court, is dated June 12,1667. 
It conveys lands to which neither of the grantors had, 
so far as we may judge, any very good title — their ter- 


ritories being located at the opposite or eastern end of 
the island. Henry B. Worth, in his "Nantucket Lands 
and Land Owners," calls attention to the fact that nei- 
ther Wanackmamack nor Nickanoose ever deeded any 
lands which he himself owned, but apparently only 
those which belonged to some other sachem, which may 
account for some at least of the difficulties which arose 
later between the settlers and the Indians over land 

Various other deeds from the Indians, some con- 
firming title to the above-mentioned lands, and others 
describing tracts in other parts of the island, appear 
on the records for a century or more after the settle- 
ment. Though there was more or less litigation over 
these conveyances from time to time, on the whole the 
intent of the contracting parties was perhaps as clear 
and the descriptions of the lands as accurate, in a gener- 
al way, as in many deeds made and executed by white 
men in the thinly-settled sections of New England even 
to this day. It has been asserted that the Indians 
sometimes tried to repudiate some of their transfers of 
land which had apparently been made in good faith. It 
would be diflicult at this late day to pass judgment on 
the merits of such claims, but it is probably safe to as- 
sume that the purchaser had not in every case gone out 
of his way to make perfectly clear to the untutored sav- 
age the exact nature of the document he was signing. 
If the buyer could not get just what he wanted, he jier- 
hai)s took what he could get, and relied on possession 
a'ld a superior knowledge of the law to sustain hia po- 
sition if assailed. This, it is admitted, is only a sur- 


mise, based on a somewhat extended observation of 
more modern methods, but it probably accounts for 
some at least of the misunderstandings which afterward 

The history of all or nearly all of the early settle- 
ments in North America was repeated here, with some 
variations, and there was more or less difficulty in gov- 
erning and controlling the Indians at times — due in 
most cases to the old, old story of the pernicious influ- 
ence of John Barleycorn — but on the whole, it is to the 
credit of both races that there was no actual warfare 
or bloodshed between them, and little of any actual op- 
pression of the weaker by the stronger. The inevita- 
ble tragedy of the survival and dominance of the fitter, 
and the gradual disappearance and final extinction of 
the less fit was enacted with rather less cause for re- 
proach to either than was the rule elsewhere. 

On October 10, 1659, Thomas Mayhew deeded to 
Tristram, Peter, Tristram, Jr., and James Coffin the 
island of "Tuckanuck or Tuckanuckett" for a consider- 
ation of £6. On February 20, 1661, Wanackmamack 
deeded to these same grantees one-half of Tuckernuck 
for £10, one-half down, and the remainder "when 
Thomas Mayhew decides who is the proper owner," 

It had been agreed between the original purchasers 
that each was to be allowed to choose an associate 
or partner, who should join in the venture on equal 
terms with themselves. Pursuant to this arrangement, 
at a meeting held on February 2d, 1659, at Salisbury, 
in the Massachusetts Bay province, where most of the 
original nine then resided, the following-named men 


were added to the proprietary : Nathaniel and Edward 
Starbuck, Tristram, Jr., and James Coffin, John Smith, 
Thomas Look, Robert Barnard, Robert Pike and Thomas 
Coleman, It was further agreed that ten others should 
be taken in on the basis of one-half share each. The 
records show that fourteen of these half shares were 
afterward issued. In some cases two half shares were 
granted to one man, and some of the original holders 
of a whole share were, for one reason or another, such 
as any special service he contracted to render the com- 
munity, granted one or more extra half shares each. 
John Bishop and Richard Gardner were granted two half 
shares each; Peter Folger, his son Eleazur, Thomas 
Macy, Joseph Coleman, Joseph Gardner, Samuel Stre- 
tor, John Gardner and Nathaniel Holland one half share 
each; William Worth received one and one-half half 
shares, and Nathaniel Wier was granted in 1667 "one 
half of a sort of a poor one." These half share allot- 
ments were made at various times from 1659 to 1667, 
and their owners came to be known as "half-share men." 
The original ten shares (including the one Mayhew 
held for himself), with the ten shares granted to the re- 
spective partners of the original ten proprietors, and the 
fourteen half or seven whole shares issued later, as 
above stated, together constituted what have since been 
known as the twenty-seven original shares, under which 
all the land of the island, except Quaise or Masquetuck 
(reserved by Mayhew) and the houselots assigned to 
each settler, was held in common for many years; and 
some of it is undivided even to this day. Each whole 
share carried ownership of one undivided twenty-seventh 


part of all the common land, which is the foundation of 
all or nearly all land titles in Nantucket county. 

It may be of some interest at this point to note 
which of the names of these early proprietors have sur- 
vived on the island. Probably some of the share-hold- 
ers never came to the island at all, and it is apparent 
that several of them sold out or severed their connec- 
tion with the venture soon after it was established. An 
examination of the surnames of all the owners of the 
original twenty-seven shares discloses, after allowing 
for duplicates, only nineteen different names, as fol- 
lows, the modern spelling being used in each case: 
Mayhew, Coffin, Macy, Hussey, Swain, Barnard. Green- 
leaf, Pike, Starbuck, Smith, Look, Coleman, Bishop, 
Worth, Stretor, Wyer, Gardner, Folger and Holland. 
Of these nineteen, the names Mayhew, Greenleaf, Pike, 
Look, Stretor, Bishop and Holland, seven in all, sooner 
or later disappeared and are lost sight of. Of the re- 
maining twelve, all are found among the island names 
today, and most of them are quite common. No actual 
count has been made, but it is probably safe to say that 
the Coffins, Folgers and Gardners are the most numer- 
ous, with the Swains, Starbucks, Husseys and Macys 
well represented, and the Barnards, Colemans, Worths 
and Wyers in considerable numbers. The Smiths, of 
course, are always with us. The Bunkers, who early 
appear as land-owners, succeeded to half of the interest 
of William Pile. 

Other characteristic early Nantucket names, not of 
the original proprietary, are Easton, Mitchell, Paddock, 
Russell, Ray, Winslow and others, all of which are 
still quite common on the island. 



AT,TH()UGH Thomas Macy is usually recognized as 
"the first settler," he was not alone when he 
took up his residence here. Nor was he, perhaps, 
the first of the proprietors to visit the island, but 
he was probably the first to bring his family with 
him. The IVlayhews doubtless came here at some time 
before they sold, and there is evidence that Peter Folger, 
who lived on the Vineyard, and possibly Tristram Cof- 
fin, as well, came down to look the ground over some 
time in 1658. Thomas Macy and others, it is believed, 
spent a short time here in the summer of 1659, but it 
was not until some time in the autumn of that year, 
either September or October, that the actual settlement 
took place, when Thomas Macy, with his wife Sarah 
and their five children, ranging in age from four to 
thirteen years, accompanied by Edward Starbuck 
and Isaac Coleman, then a young boy, embarked at 
Salisbury in a small boat, and sailing across Massachu- 
setts Bay, round Cape Cod, and across the Sound, land- 
ed at the west end of Nantucket. 

Though there is documentary proof that Thomas 
Macy had been fined by the General Court of Massachu- 
setts for harboring Quakers, and though the conditions 


v-fhich led up to that incident may have had some influ- 
ence with him in inducing him to seek a freer environ- 
ment, even though it proved to be a wilderness, we are 
unable to accept the romantic story so charmingly told 
in Whittier's poem, "The Exiles," which is good po- 
etry, but bad history. In the poem "Goodman Macy" 
escapes by a rear door of his Salisbury home when the 
priest and the sheriff come to arrest him, and without 
further preparation or equipment, flees to the shore, 
pursued by his would-be captors, and leaping into a 
"small light wherry," wields his oar to such good pur- 
pose that they eventually reach Nantucket, where he 
founds a colony of his own. Nothing is said of the five 
small children Goodman Thomas is known to have had 
at that time, of the fact that his alleged offence in fur- 
nishing shelter to the Quakers was committed some time 
after his purchase, with the other proprietors, of the 
island of Nantucket from Mayhew, nor of the further 
fact that five years later he was again living in Salis- 
bury for a short time while settling up his affairs, and 
was apparently not molested. 

Another story related by Silvanus J. Macy, com- 
piler of the "Genealogy of the Macy Family," has pos- 
sibly better claim to credence. Encountering rough 
weather while crossing the Sound, it is said, the good 
v/ife became frightened and twice besought her husband 
to turn back and seek safety on the mainland. The 
second time Thomas replied: "Woman, go below and 
seek thy God. I fear not the witches on earth or the 
devils in hell!" As all accounts agree that the craft 
in Vv^hich this adventurous voyage was made was an 


"open boat," it ia difficult to understand just what the 
doughty skipper meant when he told his spouse to "go 
below," but he may have used the expression figura- 
tively, in which sense, let us hope, it was obeyed. 

They landed safely, at all events, or this story 
would never have been told— by this writer at least — 
and with the assistance of the Indians, who were friend- 
ly, erected some sort of a house to shelter them for the 
winter at a point near the shore of Madaket harbor. 

Just how this little group of pioneers managed to 
get through that first winter it is not easy for us to un- 
derstand. They must have endured no little hardship 
and privation, and the spring of 1660 must have been 
welcomed with joy and thanksgiving. It is not likely 
that they sufTered for food, for fish of all kinds, includ- 
ing shell-fish, were probably abundant and easily ob- 
tained. Wild fowl and small game, with such salted 
or smoked meats as they may have been able to bring 
with them, doubtless supplied their protein food, and 
from the Indians they may have secured maL'-e and oth- 
er grains. Fuel enough to keep warm and cook their 
victuals was procurable for the gathering. But if any 
present-day mother of five small children will tiy to 
put herself in Sarah Hopcott Macy's place during tho^'e 
first few months, she will j>erhaps appreciate her "mod- 
ern conveniences" as never before, and cease to repine 
over the small discomforts of life. John Macy, the 
only son of Thomas who reached maturity, was the an- 
cestor of all the Macys in America. At the time of the 
immigration to Nantucket, he was four years old, ao by 
luch a slender thread hung the to-be-or-not-to-be of all 
the thousands of his posterity on this continent. 


Early in the spring of 1660 Edward Starbuck re- 
turned to Salisbury to report conditions to the other 
proprietors, and within a few months some eight or ten 
families arrived, and by the summer of that year the 
island was fairly settled by the white race. 

Though the first house was built as stated, at Mad- 
aket — the location being referred to as a bound in a 
deed some ten years later as "the old seller built by 
Edward Starbuck"- — the site of the first permanent set- 
tlement was in the vicinity of Capaum pond, which was 
then open to the sea, affording a small but safe harbor 
of refuge for vessels of light draught. The houses ex- 
tended thence south across the island to the north head 
of the Hummock pond and east along the north 
shoi-e toward the Cliff. Tristram Coffin's house. 
"Northam," was at Capaum, and Thomas Macy's lot 
was laid out near the Wannacomet pond, though an old 
cellar hole near the Reed pond, some distance to the 
east of Wannacomet, has been referred to as the site of 
Thomas Macy's house. Edward Starbuck built near the 
Hummock, and Nathaniel Starbuck and his wife Mary, 
daughter of Tristram Coffin, and known as "the Great 
Woman," lived in the same vicinity near the "Cam- 
bridge spring." Richard Gardner located on or 
near what is now the Hamblin farm at the Cliff, and 
John Gardner's house was at or near Sunset Hill. 

At a meeting of the proprietors on July 15, 1661, 
it was agreed that each houselot "shall contain sixty 
rods square to a whole share" and that each proprietor 
might choose his location from any part of the common 
land not already assigned to another. 


Though the course of empire does usually take its 
way westward, that condition was reversed here, and 
the general trend seems to have been toward the rising 
rather than the setting sun. Starting at Madaket, mov- 
ing thence to Capaum, even before the end of the sev- 
enteenth century the growth of the settlement was to- 
ward the present site of the town at Wesko (the white 
stone — spelled also Wesco and Wesquo) on the shores 
of the larger harbor. This movement was doubtless 
accelerated by the closing of the mouth of Capaum pond 
by the sea some time about the end of the seventeenth 
or very early in the eighteenth century, but the migra- 
tion was probably quite gradual, extending over a num- 
ber of years. New arrivals, for the most part, prob- 
ably settled at or near Wesko, and the children of the 
first settlers, as they married and made homes for 
themselves, turned in that direction. By 1720 or 
thereabouts the principal community was at the present 
town site, and the indications are that all the roads 
running through "the lots" westward from the town 
from the Austin Farm road to the Cliff were much more 
"settled up" than at present. The many old cellar 
holes all through this section bear mute witness to the 
homes which formerly stood there. 

The surprising thing, when we come to think of it, 
is that our ancestors should have chosen any other loca- 
tion for their village than the site of the present town. 
It would seem to have been natural to settle on the 
largest and best harbor available, and neither Madaket 
nor Capaum, at their best, could have offered any ad- 
vantages to compare with those of Wesco. 


The principal occupation of the islanders at first was 
probably farming- — including sheep and cattle husban- 
dry — with such fishing and hunting as was necessary to 
supply their modest needs. Though much has been said 
of the fishing industry, it does not seem as if that could 
have been commercially profitable for some time after 
the settlement. Most of the settlements in New Eng- 
land at that time were located on or near the coast, and 
these were well able to supply their own needs, as well 
as being much more favorably located for trading with 
the few interior points than were the islanders. Corn 
or maize, oats and rye, appear to have been the princi- 
pal cereals grown, and as early as 1666 or 1667 it was 
found necessary to erect a grist mill at Wesko pond. 
now known as the Lily pond, which, like all the ponds 
on the island, was then much larger than at present. 
Peter Folger was placed in charge as miller, and waa 
granted a half share in the undivided lands as part com- 
pensation for his services in that capacity, as well as in 
that of weaver, surveyor, blacksmith, keeper of the isl- 
and records, interpreter of the Indian language and va- 
rious other duties to which his most versatile geniua 
adapted itself. Had the proprietors known that they 
were employing none other than the grandfather of 
Benjamin Franklin, his honors would doubtless have 
been much greater than they saw fit to accord him, but 
the many-sidedness of the character of our Great Phil- 
osopher is more readily understood in the light of his 
maternal grandfather's accomplishments. 

In 1662 occurred the first death on Nantucket — 
that of Jean, wife of Richard Swain. The first white 


child born was a daughter to Nathaniel and the after- 
ward celebrated Mary Starbuck, who, when the young- 
er Mary came into the world, on March 30, 1663, had 
just paf5sed her eighteenth birthday. The earliest mar- 
ria;:je was that of William Worth and Sarah Macy, eld- 
est daughter of Thomar,, which occurred on April 11, 
1665, the bride being then a sijinsterof nearly nineteen. 

The three most important events in life having 
now taken plate, the little colony may be considered as 
fairly launched, and from that time on matters pro- 
gressed much as in other pioneer communities. Man 
and maid plighted their troth and were joined in wed- 
lock, children were born unto them, and a? time went 
on, one by one the Great Harvester claimed his own. 
Though we are prone to think of our ancestors as a re- 
markably healthy and vigorous lot, the most casual 
study of the genealogies and vital statistics of the early 
families reveals a surprisingly high infant mortality, 
and the perusal of diaries and records of the day shows 
that even among the adults many mysterious and un- 
timely deaths occurred from causes wherein the diagno- 
sis was, to say the least, decidedly vague. The more 
we inform ourselves on these points the more we are 
convinced that only the remarkable fecundity character- 
istic of the i)eriod saved many of these pioneer families 
from early extinction through natural causes. 

A curious custom among these ancestors of ours, 
and one which survived even down into the nineteenth 
century, was the usual attendance of a large concourse 
of female relatives, friends and neighbors on the occa- 
json of a visit from the stork. Whether this was due 


to a desire on the part of the prospective mother for 
company during her trial, or that the combined knowl- 
edge of many amateur midwives was thought to afford 
special security, the diarist sayeth not, but following 
the announcement of an addition to the family circle 
we almost invariably find some such announcement as 
"there were eighteen women here — all stayed to break- 
fast, " or, again, "Mother, Sister Susan, Aunt Mary, 
Cousin Hepsibeth and eleven other women came in, and 
most of them spent the night." Far be it from the 
writer to even remotely suggest that this pleasant so- 
cial custom might have had any possible connection with 
the high infant mortality above referred to, but it is 
needless to say that such a condition of affairs would 
hardly be considered in these days as conducive to a fa- 
vorable accouchement. 

Yet another quite general custom in connection 
with the courtings of the youthful couples was that 
known as "bundling," v*-hich also survived to some ex- 
tent here, as elsewhere in New England, even down to 
the times within the memory of persons now living. 
Accounts vary somewhat as to the exact form which 
this custom assumed at different times and places, and 
the subject hardly warrants detailed treatment in a 
work of this character — except as it reflects one of the 
rather interesting phases of contemporary manners — but 
the curious reader is respectfully referred to some of 
the more intimate chronicles of early colonial days, 
such, for example, as Washington Irving's Knicker- 
bocker History, for more extended information and 



3N 1CG4 Charles II, then king of England, made a 
new grant to his brother, the Duke of York (af- 
terv/ards James II, of inglorious memory) of a consid- 
ei'able part of the lands which his martyred father, the 
first Charles, had formerly bestowed upon the Earl of 
Sterling. This new grant specifically included "the 
several small islands called Nantukes or Nantucket." 
The duke appointed Francis Lovelace governor of New 
York, and the latter, in May, 1670, ordered all claim- 
ants to lands in Nantucket to appear before him within 
four months and prove their titles. It was not until a 
year later, hovvfever, in May, 1671, that Tristram Cofiin 
and Thomas Macy were appointed to go to New York 
and represent the proprietors. A new patent was there- 
upon issued to these two "for and on behalf of them- 
selves and their associates," the consideration this time 
being "four barrels of merchantable codfish to be de- 
livered in New York annually," and a condition being 
that the proprietors must purchase the lands from the 
Indians, after which the Crown would ratify and con- 
firm the titles so obtained. The town was then incor- 
porated, and in 1673 Covernor Lovelace gave it the 
name of Sherburne, by which it was known down to 1795. 
In 1672 Captain John (lardner, of Salem, a broth- 


er of Richard Gardner, who had been a member of the 
colony since 1665, was invited by the proprietors to come 
to the island and "set up the trade for the taking of 
codfish." He was granted half a share of land on his 
agreement to stay for a period of three years. He re- 
mained until his death in 1706. John Gardner was a 
man of strong and forceful personality, and he soon be- 
came one of the most prominent men in the settlement. 
In 1673 Governor Lovelace appointed him "Captain 
and Chief Military Officer of the Ffoot Company," and 
he was at various times thereafter Selectman, Treasur- 
er, Chief Magistrate and Deputy to New York. 

Before Gardner's arrival Tristram Coffin had been 
the leading spirit politically, and little was done or un- 
dertaken by the settlers without his sanction and ap- 
proval. Through his five sons, Tristram, Jr., James, 
Peter, John and Stephen, and his two sons-in-law, Ste- 
phen Greenleaf and Nathaniel Starbuck,all of v/hom were 
share-holders, Tristram controlled a very considerable 
interest in the island lands. Being of an aggressive 
and dominating — not to say domineering — nature, as 
well as a man of great ability, his influence had here- 
tofore been stronger than that of any other one member 
of the proprietary. Moreover, he had the backing and 
support of the Mayhews, v/ho still retained their inter- 
est in Nantucket, though they lived, for the most part, 
at the Vineyard. It was the apparent ])urpose of the 
Coffins and the Mayhews, with their adherents, to con- 
trol the political affairs of the island by virtue of their 
holdings of land, and it was their dream to set up here 


a land-owners' aristocracy, showing little consideration 
for newcomers or those who were not proprietors. 

Naturally enough, very soon after John Gardner 
came he and Tristram Coffin locked horns. Captain 
Gardner's ideas were much too liberal and democratic 
to suit the plans of the Coffins, and Tristram appears to 
have viewed with alarm the rapid growth of his new 
rival's power and popularity. So even thus early in 
the history of this little settlement there began the 
world-old cleavage between the conservatives and the 

John Gardner soon formed a close offensive and 
defensive alliance with Peter Folger, who was probably 
the best-educated man on the island, and throughout all 
the long struggle which followed these two stood shoul- 
der to shoulder. In the beginning, Thomas Macy, his 
son-in-law, William Worth, and his close friend, Ed- 
ward Starbuck, together with the Colemans, the Bunk- 
ers, Nathaniel Wyer and others, sided with the Gard- 
ners, while the Swains, the Husseys, Nathaniel Bar- 
nard and others, including Edward Starbuck 's son Na- 
thaniel, who had married Tristram Coffin's daughter 
Mary, were aligned with the Coffins. The Gardner par- 
ty were slightly in the majority numerically, but th6 
Coffin faction were firmly intrenched, very determined, 
and probably better organized, as is usually the case 
with the conservative element. 

Under the Lovelace patent the freeholders were 
reijuired to name two men, one of whom the Governor 
.should appoint Chief Magistrate. At the first such 
election, in 1673, the names of Edward Starbuck and 


Richard Gardner were submitted, and the governor clio^e 
the latter. At the same time he appointed Captain 
John commander of the Ffoot Company, which was the 
chief military office. The Coffin party, naturally, were 
not over-pleased to have two Gardners occupying^ the 
two highest offices, and so began the long fight. 

From July, 1673, to October, 1674, New York 
was again held by the Dutch, during which period Nan- 
tucket apparently governed herself without much out- 
side interference. After the return of the English, Gov- 
ernor Andros succeeded Lovelace, and another new deal 
all round became the political order of the day. 

Whenever a meeting was held on the island and 
a vote passed which met with the disapproval of the 
Coflins, it was noted on the records that "Mr. Tristram 
Coffin enters his decent." This was usually followed 
by all or most of the other members of his party enter- 
ing their "decent," also, but Tristram has been well 
called "the Great Dissenter." The Coffins believed 
that the whole share men should have two votes to only 
one for the half-share men, and that land-ownership 
should be the only basis for the franchise, while the 
Gardners stood for equal voting power for each free- 
man in all public affairs, regardless of the amount of 
land he owned. 

Each of the two factions soon began bombarding 
New York with charges and counter charges, appeals, 
complaints and memorials, each setting forth the peti- 
tioners' grievances, and demanding redress. The first 
round was won by the Coffins, when, on November 7, 
1674, Andros issued an order authorizing the "Cover- 


nor or Governors and assistants of both the Islands 
Martin's Vineyard and Nantucket (or one of them) 

to call to account and punish all such persons 

as have been ringleaders or capital offenders and trans- 
gressors against the established government of his Roy- 
al Highness to secure the offenders and to 

send them hither by the first conveyance." This was 
in response to an appeal from CofRn and Mayhew, and 
was hailed by them as a settler for the Gardners. 
Tristram Coffin also complained that the records were 
withheld from inspection, and the governor ordered that 
all persons should "have a legal and free recourse 
thereunto." Next Coffin and Mayhew complained that 
tradesmen and seamen were ordering the affairs of the 
town, admitting, however, that such were in the ma- 
jority in numbers but not in property, and adding this 
quaint sporting phrase: "Neither can we have any re- 
dress, they affirming that every card they play is an 
ace and every ace a trump, and that we have no reme- 
dy in law." 

On December 28, 1674, the Gardner faction, being 
still in control, fined Stephen Hussey for contempt of 
authority in saying to Captain John: "Meddle with your 
own business. I gave Edward Cartwright authority to 
let his hogs run on the Common." 

In 1676 Thomas Macy and his son-in-law, William 
Worth, changed front and sided with the Cofl^ins. Thom- 
as Macy was then Chief Magistrate, but his commission 
had expired, and his successor not having been appoint- 
ed, he continued to hold court. The Coffin party threw 
in their lot with him, thus regaining control of affairs; 


William Worth was chosen clerk, and John Gardner and 
Peter Folger were arbitrarily disfranchised and refused 
any participation in the affairs of the town. Peter 
Folger was arrested for contempt of His Majesty's au- 
thority and for "contemptious carrag." Peter was 
very stubborn, and refused to answer questions put to 
him by his persecutors, which doubtless angered them 
more than if he had spoken his mind freely. He was 
bound over in the sum of twenty pounds for his appear- 
ance at the Court of Assizes in New York, and in de- 
fault thereof was committed to jail, where he remained 
in durance vile (very vile, according to his complaint 
to the Governor) the greater part of the time for over 
a year. 

The Coffins, now holding the whip hand, used their 
power in an arbitrary and high-handed manner. Tobias 
Coleman, Eleazur Folger and the latter's wife Sarah, 
who was Richard Gardner's daughter, were all ar- 
rested for no other reason, apparently, than that they 
had criticized the action of the court in the case of Pe- 
ter. Tobias and Eleazur were fined, and Sarah was 
"reproved and admonished." 

A demand having been made upon Peter Folger to 
deliver up the records of the court, which had been in 
his custody as clerk, he refused to comply therewith on 
the ground that he did not recognize the authority of 
the court as now constituted. Whether he hid the book 
so carefully that he was unable to find it afterward 
himself, or whether it was lost or destroyed, is not 
known, but from that day to this the book has never 
been found. 


Meantime trouble was threatened with the Indians, 
who had a high regard for John Gardner and Peter Foi- 
ger, and resented the treatment accorded them by the 
Coffin faction. The latter, though growing uneasy, 
would not relent, but sought to bring matters to an is- 
sue by pressing still further their persecution of Gard- 
ner and Folger. Folger was fined five pounds, remand- 
ed to jail and disfranchised. Captain John was arrest- 
ed on a charge of "burning a deed of sale," and his 
bail was fixed at fifty pounds. He was ordered to pay 
a fine of ten pounds; also that "he receive a sharp ad- 
monition,' and he also was disfranchised. 

Tristram Coffin deposed that when his enemy was 
brought into court "he sot down on a chest where 1 

sat I spake to him and told him that I was 

very sorry that he did behave himself. The aforesaid 
Capt. John Gardner replied and said: '1 know my busi- 
ness and it may be that some of those that have med 
died with me had better have eaten fier.' " 

It is recorded that Capt. Gardner refusing to pay 
the fine, the constable took "a haluef a barrel of 
Rom." Later he took "eight cattle and a fat sheep." 
Gardner simply refused to recognize the authority of 
the court, pending a decision on his appeal to the gov- 
ernor. Both he and Peter Folger had repeatedly a]>- 
pealed to New York, claiming that the court whifli had 
committed these acts was not a legal tribunal, and ask- 
ing redress. 

Finally, in August, 1G77, Governor Andros ordered 
a suspension of all further proceedings, and after a 
hearing, at which all parties were represented, he or- 


dered the cases remitted to him. Later he served for- 
mal notice on the Nantucket court that "Capt. John 
Gardner's fine and disfranchisement is void and null ac- 
cording to the Governor's order and Peter Folger's 

Mayhew and Coffin were furious, and they even 
went so far as openly to defy the governor, by sending 
the constable to seize more of Gardner's cattle to satis- 
fy the judgment. But the Captain had won, not only 
with the governor, but with his fellow-townsmen, and 
he was soon restored to favor. At a town meeting held 
in January, 1678, an apology was voted to both Gard- 
ner and Folger, and their disfranchisement was "made 
utterly void and null." Poor old Tristram contined to 
"enter his decent," but his power was broken and from 
that time on John Gardner could afford to be magnan- 
imous, as he afterward proved himself. 

In 1680, John Gardner was appointed Chief Mag- 
istrate, and in the same year he was chosen to repre- 
sent the town at New York, where, by order of the 
Governor, he was fully vindicated, and the property 
which had been taken from him was ordered restored. 

During Tristram Coffin's term as Chief Magistrate 
in 1678 he had taken charge of the wreck of a French 
ship loaded with hides and had sold the property. In 
1680, a dispute having arisen as to the amount due 
from Coffin to the governor on account of this transac- 
tion, John Gardner used his influence with Andros to 
have the claim against his old enemy materially re- 
duced, thus earning Tristram's gratitde and forgiveness 
at last; and so the long and bitter contest ended. 


Tristram Coffin died in October, 1681. In 1686 his 
grandson, Jethro Coffin, married John Gardner's daugh- 
ter Mary, and the now famous "Oldest House" wa.T 
built for the young couple on Sunset Hill on land do- 
nated by the bride's father, the lumber having been 
sawed at the mill of Peter Coffin, father of the groom. 

The Duke of York having succeeded his brother aa 
James II in 1681, had appointed Thomas Dongan to 
succeed Andros as governor of New York, and in 1687 
still another patent was issued to the Nantucketers, con- 
firming their land titles. This is known as the Dongan 
patent. It is recorded in the Nantucket Registry of 
Deeds, and is considered the actual starting point for 
all land titles in the county. It is a quaint but lengthy 
and complicated document. A note at the end states 
that "the Attorney General has perused this docu 
ment, " etc., but it is fair to presume that that func- 
tionary did something more than peruse it, for it is an 
excellent example of platitudinous ponderosity and legal 
phraseology at its best — or worst. The consideration 
provided in the Dongan patent was "6 kentals of good 
merchantable fish" for the land already acquired from 
the Indians, and for any lands acquired thereafter the 
Governor was to receive annually "one lamb or tv.'O 

By an act of parliament passed in 1692 all the 
islands Mayhew purchased from Forrett in 1641, in- 
cluding Nantucket, were transferred to the Province of 



^THE exact connection between the two prominent 
^/ features in the story of Nantucket which head this 
chapter may not be apparent at first sight, but it is an 
interesting fact to which, so far as the writer is aware, 
particular attention has never before been called — that 
the two seem somehow to have been part and parcel of 
each other, and the influence of each upon the other in 
the development of the community and its people was 
such that they arc and forever will be inextricably in- 
termingled and interwoven in our history. 

Whaling antedated Quakerism on the island by a 
generation, but Quakerism outlived the whaling by 
about an equal period. Each reached its maximum de- 
velopment at about the same time, and each lasted al- 
most exactly two centuries — whaling from 1670 to 
1870, and Quakerism from 1700 to 1900, roughly 
speaking. At no time were all Nantucket's active 
v/orkers engaged in the whaling industry; nor were all 
the population at any given time Quakers. Other in- 
dustries and other religions flourished throughout all 
our history, but the fact remains that these two great 
factors in the industrial and religious life, respectively, 
of these islanders waxed and waned together, and the 
connection between the two being presumably thus es- 

84 THE R'l'OIfY OK OI,I) MANTJ/CKI/r r.liifl, il. wfiiild iiiciti ciriiiK'nlly propfi lo fifaf, thorn 
lo^i'lli'T ill one cliuitlrr. Tin- (l<*Hir<' (,o prcHcrvf, an 
fjir JIM pdHiiililf, llic cliroiKiloj.Mcal M<'(|ii«'nrp of rvrnin in 
•■.nil rli,ip(( T, lalliif (liaii (<i (Icvdif H''pural.«! rhttpt«r« 
It) M<'|ia,ial,f ofciirrcncf'M durin^^ nuhMJuntially 1li<* Harne 
p«'iiiMl, fiiiiiiHiicn an a<I(lit,ii)nal n-nnoti for 8Uch t,r*»at.- 

MK'lil of I lic;;i' !Uil> jfCl,:,. 

'I'lic capliirr of l.lic (iral. whalf hy l,hf Naiit,iirkrt.#>r« 
firrniM l(» liavf Iiitii iiMirc or I<'HH of an arcidiMil,. Obcd 
Macy f'liyn : 

"A wliair of tin- kind called 'Hcrajf' rarrif in to 
llip haihor and conliniicrl then' three dayw. Thin ex- 
c\{.i'(\ the cnrioHily of l,h«' people and l«'d Iheiii to devine 
ineaMiiieH to preveiil, his return out. of the harbor. They 
accoi(linj.;ly invenird and caused to he wroujfht for them 
a hnrpoiin with which I h«'y attacked and killrd the 
whale. ' ' 

No date i.4 ^'ivcii by Uie hiHtorian for this pvont, 
but whenever il. happened, it waH firobably not the firnt 
experience of the islanders in the procurinf^ of whale 
oil, for there is evidence that from the first an occa- 
pional (lead or "<lrift" whale, a.s it wns callo(i, had 
b<<en .saved, and the oil extracted; and even before the 
while men came the Indians seem to have secured such 
prizes occasionally. 

On May 4, 1()72, an ap,reenient was entered into 
between the propriotors and one James Loper, by which 
the latter did "Inpage to carry on a design of Whale 
Citching," for which he was to be granted "ten acres 
of land in soni convenant place that he may Chuse in," 
etc. It does not au|)ear that this contract was ever 
cHrried out, but it is an interesting fact that two dif- 

ScoB -< 

at Tstrknif ; - -^ _ ^ ^^ - 

HKiE wer* kept iHi "»a^CT f w wbaieff- Sevexal w ri Pes t 

taet *:-_ _- . - - - -- . 

Ktrr. 2. 1T?2 one at 

tiie 'M»n"± H**' ._ .-:._-_. - . - ■•'•'esveed- 

«!- jwsid- H* e?*eact -of **a great mjiawr «f »iaJe 

rsLTKrC for t j-cr.ii: -yri . v _i ■_____ .,:_.. _ • . .^^ 
eridkt vnxi iE jit^ a iawky, to go up-*' Zaed»en8 lftac3r 
V , =:-isrt 

< . ^_ : _ _i __ _ , ._ . . ., . -K 

•t.i-rj'. • ■ 

iw»e-«petser <» "Sae leiand. tiwi^i: be cad ««««■ «t»dJeQ 

eairc sur^ .; _ is« 

aocesit pajTiieat- J- H^rsor St. J«m -de Cs'O'oooeiw- 

wiijri va^t : _ . - i- - . _ i - . ^ froiE 

Kantxic&gt is 1777, -cescribeE a "wisle ibuase -iriiicj: w^t 
"if^r EtaifC - r^^TJueet, aaat; anoibsr at Seeaiijacbs 

baf t^eset rr. -_ : 

^Alifsc a *isa'i« •sr-sE si^Kfec Irtm; IbBse l-ookwrte 


harpoons. If they succeeded in killing the whale, the 
carcass was towed ashore, and "cut in" on the beach, 
the blubber being tried out at the whale houses. 

Quoting again from Zaccheus Macy : "In 1690 the 
Nantucketors, finding their neighbors on Cape Cod more 
proficient in the art of killing whales and extracting 
the oil than themselves, sent thither and employed 
Ichabod Paddock to remove to the island and instruct 
them on these points." 

Nantucketers have sometimes been gently twitted, 
not to say- taunted, by their brothers of Cape Cod con- 
cerning this Paddock incident. The "Capies" have 
been somewhat inclined to gloat over the fact that 
Nantucket had to borrow a whaleman from them to 
teach her the trick. The islanders, so far from deny- 
ing the soft impeachment, are, on the contrary, rather 
proud of the fact that their ancestors were so enterpris- 
ing as to seek the best instruction possible, wherever it 
might be found, in the pursuit of a business at which 
they very soon excelled all others — not only on Cape 
Cod, but throughout the world. A century later Nan- 
tucketers were offered the highest inducements (which 
some of them accepted) by England and France, then 
the two leading maritime nations on the globe, to coach 
their whalemen in the most improved methods of prose- 
cuting a craft which Nantucket had made almost exclu- 
sively her own; and while the Cape Codders were, for 
the most part, yet content to eke out a precarious liv- 
ing hy shore and bank fishing for cod and haddock, their 
island brothers were waxing fat and prosperous from 
the oleaginous proceeds of all the seven seas. 


It has been the custom with many uninformed 
writers and speakers to refer in a general way to the 
first settlers of Nantucket as Quakers. Even some good 
Nantucketers, who ought to know better, often talk 
rather loosely about "our Quaker ancestors who settled 
the island," and stories have been written putting the 
Friend's language in the months of characters supposed 
to have lived on the island in the IGSO's or thereabouts. 
As a matter of fact, most of the original settlers were 
of either the Baptist or Presbyterian persuasion, and, 
if we except an occasional isolated case, it was more 
than a generation after the settlement before there 
v/ere any Quakers on the island at all, while it was 
well into the eighteenth century before this remarkable 
sect gained any very strong foothold among the people. 

During the years 1698, 1699 and 1700 several ac- 
tive and prominent members of the Society of Friends, 
including some of the more eloquent preachers of the 
time, visited the island and sowed the seed which was 
to take root and grow into a mighty tree of the faith, 
until in time it became the predominant religious influ- 
ence in the community, holding sway over the lives and 
actions of a large part of the population for a century 
and a half or more, and lingering in the persons of one 
or two adherents down to the very close of the nine- 
teenth century. 

So numerous and powerful was the organization at 
the period of its maximum strength in Nantucket that 
it may well be doubted if, in the whole history of the 
movement, the Society could ever have claimed so large 


a proportion of the population of any other community 
of equal size anywhere in the world. 

Among the more famous preachers of this faith 
who had most to do with its early and successful estab- 
lishment here were Thomas Chalkley, Thomas Story and 
John Richardson, all from England, but there were 
many others almost equally influential who came from 
Rhode Island, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and elsewhere. 

It was a most fortunate circumstance for the cause 
of Quakerism that its advocates made an early convert 
of Mary Starbuck, "the Great Woman" before referred 
to, then in the middle fifties, the mother of ten chil- 
dren, and at the height of her pov/er and influence in 
the little island community. She was a truly remark- 
able woman, loved, respected and looked up to by all 
for her strength of character, breadth of mind and no- 
ble qualities of heart and soul, and the influence she 
exerted over the lives and actions of her fellow-towns- 
men and women has hardly a parallel in our colonial 
history. Once convinced of its truth, she embraced the 
new faith with characteristic ardor and enthusiasm, and 
soon became herself one of its most celebrated advo- 
cates and preachers, making many converts. For sev- 
eral years meetings were held in the great fore-room of 
h^r home, known as "Parliament House," situated on 
what is now known as Island View farm, between the 
Maxcy's and the North Head of the Hummock ponds. 

The shore whaling, as pursued in small boats, con- 
tinued actively for more than half a century after its 
establishment, and spasmodically for a much longer pe- 
riod. It reached its maximum about 1726, in which 


year eighty-six whales were taken in this manner by 
the islanders. But even much earlier than this small 
sloops had been built and fitted out to cruise further off 
shore among the shoals which surround the island. 
These voyages at first lasted only a few days, which 
gradually extended to weeks, and finally, as the vessels 
grew larger, even to months. At first, whenever a 
whale was taken, the blubber was removed, stored in 
hogsheads, and the vessel returned to port, where the 
oil was extracted in try-works erected along the shore 
of the harbor. One such try-works existed for many 
years near the present location of the Nantucket Ath- 
letic Club, This little strip of beach between the 
present Steamboat Wharf and the Brant Point marshes 
has always been known as "the Clean Shore" (with 
the accent on the "clean") but it must have been any- 
thing but clean in those days, for whale blubber decom- 
poses quickly, and some of the cargoes brought in must 
have been in a more or less advanced stage of putrefac- 
tion. The odor arising from such operations rnu^t have 
been far from agreeable, especially when the wind was 
from the east, but there was no Board of Health in 
those days, and noses were apparently less sensitive 
than today — at least where profit was concerned. So 
the good housewives probably kept the doors and win- 
dows closed, and endured as best they could without 

About 1708 the Nantucket Friends joined the 
Pwhode Island "Quarterly Meeting," and in 1711 they 
built their first meeting house, a short distance south- 
east of the ancient burial ground. This was enlarged 


a few years later by an addition twenty feet in length. 

Prior to 1712 all the whales taken were of the 
species known as "right" whales, but in that year one 
Christopher Ilussey, being out with his crew in a small 
boat, was blown olF-shore in a gale, and running into a 
school of sperm whales, succeeded in killing one of 
them, which he brought home. It was this event, un- 
doubtedly, which gave such an impetus to the off-shore 
whaling, for sperm oil was much more valuable than 
that obtained from the right whale, and for a hundred 
and fifty years thereafter your true Nantucket whale- 
man was out for "sparmocity, " as he called it. Other 
whalemen, while they preferred sperm, were glad to 
get either, and Nantucket captains doubtless carried 
their preference too far at times; but when there was 
a chance to get sperm it paid to wait for it, and they 
knew it. Whalebone, obtained from the right whale 
only, was of comparatively little value in the early 
days, though it became a very important part of the 
product later on. 

By 1715, six sloops were engaged in the off-shore 
whaling, and ten years later the number had increased 
to twenty-five. These vessels were very small, rarely 
exceeding fifty tons burthen, but as whales became 
scarcer and more shy they extended their voyages fur- 
ther and further until, in the 1730's,they were cruising 
as far north as Davis straits, and as far south as the 
Bahamas. In 1720 the first shipment of oil to England 
was made, via Boston, by the ship Hanover. In 1723 
the Straight Wharf was built to accommodate the rap- 
idly growing fleet. 

In 1731, the Friends, who were increasing rapidly 


in numbers, built a new meeting house at the corner of 
Main and Saratoga streets, on the lot known still as 
"the Quaker burying ground." 

From this time on the organization continued to 
flourish until it claimed a majority of the descendants 
of the original settlers and a considerable part of the 
new comers. Quakers from "off-island" were doubt- 
less attracted to the place by the favorable conditions 
afforded to persons of their faith, and many converts 
were made from among "the world's people," so that, 
notwithstanding the large industrial immigration of 
non-Quakers from the mainland as the whaling industry 
grew and prospered, it is probably safe to say that late 
in the eighteenth century fully one half of the entire 
population of four or five thousand people attended one 
or the other of the several meetings which had by that 
time been established in different parts of the town. 

The far-reaching-effect of this peculiar form of 
belief upon the lives of these people is difficult to over- 
estimate. More than almost any other form of Chris- 
tian theology, Quakerism entered into the daily life of 
its adherents, exerting a marked influence upon their 
every act and thought. Its keynote was simplicity. 
Plain living, high thinking, unworldliness and humility 
were its tenets. There was no definite statement of 
doctrine to which those who adopted the faith were ex- 
pected to subscribe. They believed in the "inner 
light," and that "though in the world, they were not 
of it." They wore plain clothes, of subdued and 
neutral colors, though of the best quality of material 
they could afford, and they forswore all attempt at or- 
nament or display either in their attire, their homes, or 


their meeting-houses — even to the extent of not using 
paint, except where it was ncessary for the preserva- 
tion of the wood. All who were not Friends were "the 
world's people." 

As originally expounded and taught by its leaders, 
no more beautiful, unselfish and altogether admirable 
religion has ever been offered for the consolation of 
mankind and the guidance of his conduct in this world. 
But — ^there is always a but — they took too little ac- 
count of human nature, and the natural desires and im- 
pulses thereof, not to mention its weaknesses and frail- 
ties. They were far too rigid and severe in their dis- 
cipline, seeking to control the acts and motives of their 
members in the most minute affairs of their daily lives. 
Music was tabooed, the spinet was "the devil's instru- 
ment" ; the least personal adornment, even by the very 
young, was frowned upon; marriage outside the sect 
was absolutely forbidden ; any unseemly evidence of joy 
or gayety was sinful, and so on. The slightest infrac- 
tion of this rigid code was met with punishment in 
some form, and the unrepentant were liable to be 
"read-out-of meeting," which had all the terrors for 
the faithful that excommunication may hold for the 
Roman Catholic. 

As might be expected, such a power, vested in a 
few, was often abused, or at least arbitrarily exercised, 
and the result was inevitable. Gradually the more in- 
dependent and progressive spirits grew away from the 
organization, which lacked the flexibility and adapta- 
bility to modify its demands upon them to meet tha 
changed conditions, and its numbers dwindled to com- 
parative insignificance. 



T the beginning of the second quarter of the eigh- 
teenth century the white population of Nantucket 
was nearly a thousand souls, and daring the next fifty 
years the increase was steady and continuous, with few 
if any set-backs. 

The Quakers were gradually gaining the ascenden- 
cy in the councils of the island, and their habits of 
thrift and frugality, combined with untiring industry, 
contributed much to the prosperity and progress of the 
community. Their moral code was of the highest, they 
stood for peace and harmony as opposed to contention 
and controversy, and though shrewd in business and 
with an eye for the main chance, their actions were, as a 
rule, fair and honorable, and they set a very high stand- 
ard of commercial probity and fair dealing. On all 
public questions they Vv^ere firm for what they believed 
to be right, and one of the very earliest anti -slavery 
publications in our history v>7as issued here in 1733 in 
the form of a pamphlet by Elihu Coleman, a minister 
of the Society of Friends, entitled: "A Testimony 
Against That Anti-Christian Practice of Making Slaves 
of Men." The Quakers very early took a firm stand 
against slavery, and in their quiet but effective way did 


much to aid and further the cause of abolition in after 

The whaling industry continued to thrive and pros- 
per, affording employment for hundreds of seamen and 
many mechanics, both afloat and asliore. As the ships 
increased in size and the voyages became longer, try- 
works were built on the ships, and the oil was extract- 
ed at sea. This necessitated carrying many casks, 
which wore stowed in "shocks" in the hold of the ves- 
sel, and set up and filled as whales were taken. The 
demand for coopers thus became very great, and this 
was one of the most important trades on the island. 
Every ship carried a cooper, and there were several 
cooper's shops along the water front of the town. Car- 
penters, caulkers, rope-makers, riggers, sail -makers, 
blacksmiths and other mechanics all found plenty of 
work, and outfitters, grocers, ship-chandlers and other 
tradesmen flourished. 

From its earliest days whaling was conducted on 
the share basis, every member of the shi[)'3 crew, from 
the captain down to the boy, receiving a portion of the 
profits of the voyage, or a "lay," as it was called, 
based on his rank and experience — the owners of the 
ship taking their return on their capital in the same 
way. This co-operative system, which is but even now 
being introduced with great caution and many misgiv- 
ings into general industrial and commercial pursuits 
ashore, long ago proved its worth among the whalemen. 
It appealed to one of the strongest of human motives, 
the desire for gain, and gave a wonderful stimulus to 
every man on the ship to give the best that was in him 


for the common cause. Owing to this incentive to am- 
bition the whaleman was ever a better man than the 
merchantman. A successful voyage meant plenty of 
spending money for all hands — ^"greasy luck," it was 
called — and if perchance, as of course sometimes hap- 
pened, little or no profit resulted from a voyage — well, 
a man could always ship again, and the next time he 
might strike it rich. This system had much to com- 
mend it, and it undoubtedly contributed much to the 
cultivation of those habits of independent thinking and 
self-reliance which have always characterized these isl- 
anders, being in that respect a big improvement over 
the wage system. The life offered plenty of adventure 
and excitement, and unlimited opportunities for ad- 
vancement to the ambitious and industrious. It was 
no unusual thing, after a few successful voyages, for a 
youngster still in the early twenties to get command of 
a ship and secure a big "lay." 

According to no less an authority than Benjamin 
Franklin, it was the Nantucket whalemen who first put 
the Gulf Stream on the map. He says: "The Nantuck- 
et whalemen, being extremely well acquainted with the 
Gulph Stream, its course, strength and extent, by their 
constant practice of whaling along the edges of it from 
their island to the Bahamas, this draft of that stream 
was obtained of one of them. Captain Timothy Folger, 
and caused to be engraved on the old chart for the ben- 
efit of navigation by B. Franklin." 

In the 1730's Quanaty Hill, better known now as 
"the Bank," on the easterly side of Orange street, and 
which formerly extended much further to the eastward 


acro33 what ia now Union street, was removed, the 
material taken away being used to fill the flats and low 
lands along the harbor front, thus making several acres 
of new land. 

The first regularly established minister on the isl- 
and was the Rev. Timothy White, who began his pas- 
torate of the Presbyterian society in 1732, continuing 
in that caj)acity, and also serving as schoolmaster, for 
a period of about twenty-five years. The meeting house 
of the society was located, according to tradition, to 
the north of and not far from No-bottom pond. 

In 1745 the Nantucket merchants made their first 
shipment of oil direct to England. Prior to that time 
they had been dependent on the Boston shipping men 
for this service, and the Bostonians had reaped a hand- 
some profit, not only on the oil so shipped, but also on 
the return cargoes of hemp, iron, hardware and other 
manufactures which they resold to the Nantucketers — • 
thus "getting it going and coming," as the saying nov/ 
is. This first venture proving successful, the saving 
effected encouraged the shippers to repeat the experi- 
ment, with the result that they soon established a 
thriving trade between the island and the mother coun- 
try, to their mutual advantage and profit. 

But all Nantucketers were not engaged in whaling, 
even at this period of hsr history. More and more of 
the lands were being enclosed and cultivated, and 
though crops were not large in proportion to the labor 
involved, they were reasonably sure, and a ready mar- 
ket was at hand for more than could be produced. Sev- 
eral windmills had been erected for grinding their corn, 


as well as fulling mills, saw mills and other manufac- 
tories. The "Old Mill" now standing was built in 
1746. The fishing stages at Siasconset and Sesacha- 
cha, which had been established early in this eighteenth 
century, were active and busy places during the seasons 
when the cod, haddock, and pollock were to be caught 
on the shoals off-shore, and great quantities of these 
fish were cured and sold in the town or shipped to the 

Sheep raising had from a very early date been an 
important industry, the great extent of suitable graz- 
ing land being favorable to the business. During the 
latter half of the eighteenth century the flocks num- 
bered from twelve to fifteen thousand, and the output 
of wool and mutton was by no means inconsiderable. 
The sheep were all on open range on the commons, re- 
quiring little or no shepherding or care, and each own- 
er was allowed to keep as many as the number of sheep 
commons he owned or controlled in the undivided lands. 
Private "earmarks" distinguished the sheep of each 
owner. The annual round-up, washing and shearing 
was the grand social event of the year on the island. 

The big "Shearing" was held in June, and the 
whole town turned out for the occasion, and drove, rode, 
walked, or in some way or other arrived at the shear- 
ing pens, which were built near one or the other of the 
ponds, the best known one being near the southerly end 
of Miacomet pond, at what is now called "Shearpen 
Hill." While the men worked at the washing and 
shearing, the women-folks prepared and set out sub- 
stantial repasts of hearty food and home-made delica- 


ciee against the time when the workers reated from 
their labors at the nooninj?. The occasion was a regu- 
lar "Donnybrook Fair. " Itinerant musicians, fakirs, 
jugglers, sweetmeat vendors, and other adventurers 
came to the island, and all the usual features and acces- 
sories of a rural event where a crowd is sure to assem- 
ble, were in evidence. For once in the year even the 
staid and solemn Quakers relaxed a trifle from their 
wonted rigid demeanor, and joined mildly in the revel- 
ry of the world's people. Sailors home from a voyage, 
with money to spend and ready for any kind of amuse- 
ment or excitement, contributed largely to the gayety 
of the occasion, and there was much sparking and 
sweethearting with the island maidens, all arrayed in 
their best bibs and tuckers. These annual festivals 
survived well into the middle of the nineteenth century, 
and were remembered and described with much zest by 
many of the elderly people in the writer's boyhood 
days. A most interesting and realistic description of 
one of these events may be found in James C. Hart's 
novel of Nantucket life, "Miriam CofRn, or the Whale 

Brant Point lighthouse, the first built upon the 
island and the second established in the United States, 
was erected in 1746 by private funds supplied by the 
ship-owners, who maintained it for some years, until it 
was ceded to the town, which continued its operation 
until it was taken over by the Government in 1791. 
The two towers now standing are the fourth and fifth 
respectively which have been built on this point since 
the first light was established. 


During the year 1755 three Nantucket whalers, 
with their crews, totalling about forty men, were lost 
off the Grand Banks, and in the following year three 
more met a similar fate in the same locality. At about 
this same time, which was the period of the French and 
Indian Wars, six more ships were captured by the 
French and taken as prizes to France, where their 
crews were imprisoned, only a few of the men ever 
reaching home again. These losses proved a serious 
blow to the island's chief industi'y. The loss of twelve 
good ships, with upward of one hundred and fifty men, 
in a period of less than two years, might well have 
discouraged the whalemen. Shortly after this (in 
1760) George III came to the throne, and England in- 
augurated that pig-headed colonial policy which finally 
culminated in the American Revolution. One of the 
first acts was to put a substantial bounty upon oil ob- 
tained by whalers from the home ports. This stimu- 
lated the London whalers for a time, but naturally to 
the great detriment of the colonies, and especially of 
Nantucket, which produced more oil than all the other 
American whaling ports combined. But even such se- 
rious handicaps as these proved only a temporary set- 
back, for nothing could long deter these enterprising 
people from the prosecution of a business in which they 
now excelled all others. New markets were sought and 
obtained, larger vessels were built, some reaching the 
mammoth proportions of one hundred tons or more, and 
new whaling grounds were explored and opened up. In 
1763, the waters of Africa were invaded, and the 
"Guinea Coast" proved a popular cruising ground. In 


1765 many of the whalers made good catches round the 
Azores, and others were doing well at the same time to 
the eastward of the Newfoundland Banks in the North 

There were seventy-eight vessels engaged in the 
business from Nantucket in 1764, and the population 
at that time was well over three thousand. It was in 
that year that the great plague or pestilence was visit- 
ed upon the Indians, reducing their numbers from three 
hundred and fifty-eight in the autumn of 1764 to only 
one hundred and thirty-six in the following spring. The 
exact nature of this epidemic has never been definitely 
determined, but for some reason the whites appear to 
have been immune. 

In 1773 ships Dartmouth, Eleanor and Beaver 
sailed from Nantucket for London with cargoes of oil. 
After discharging the oil, they were laden with tea for 
Boston, and on arrival there, that rather famous little 
social afrair since known as "the Boston Tea Party" 
was celebrated on these ships. The Beaver was owned 
in Nantucket and was commanded by a Nantucketer, 
Capt. Hezekiah Coffin. 

One of the richest whaling grounds discovered up 
to that time was located off the coast of Brazil in 1774, 
and for long thereafter the whalemen talked of the 
"Bra-zcel Bank?," and of the wonderful whaling to be 
had there. 

By 1775 the Nantucket whaling fleet had grown 
to one hundred and fifty ships and vessels, employing 
over two thousand seamen, and producing about thirty 
thousand barrels of sperm and four thousand barrels of 


whale oil annually. The population of the island had 
grown to more than 4500 souls, and they were a hap- 
py and industrious people, making rapid progress in 
all the arts of civilization and not a few of its graces. 
Every one who wanted work could get it, there was no 
want and little actual poverty, and the place was 
known throughout the civilized world as a town of rap- 
idly-growing importance. 

Then came the American Revolution! 




'HAT the people of Nantucket suffered during the 
wgr of the American colonies for independence 
can never be fully understood or appreciated — much less 
described. The privations they endured, the almost 
complete destruction of their shipping, which was their 
main source of livelihood, the lack of not only food, 
but at times of practically all the ordinary necessities 
of a reasonably comfortable existence, the terrible loss 
of life at sea, and worse still, the prolonged sufferings 
and lingering deaths of many of the seamen in the 
loathsome British prison ships, the anxiety and mental 
agony of those who remained at home, find few paral- 
lels in modern history. 

Except for the fact that their land was not actu- 
ally invaded to any extent by a hostile force which laid 
waste their homes and fields, the only comparison which 
occurs to us is the case of martyred Belgium in the 
very hour when these lines are written. If this state- 
ment seems stronger than the facts would appear to 
warrant, if the terrible devastation of Belgium seems 
a greater calamity to its people than the losses and 
deprivations which our island suffered during the Amer- 
ican Revolution, this is perhaps more than offset by the 
larger proportionate loss of life and liberty in the case 


of Nantucket. The Revolution lasted about eight years, 
and during that time one hundred and thirty-four Nan- 
tucket ships, with their cargoes and crews, were cap- 
tured by the British, while fifteen more vessels were 
lost at sea. The actual loss of life as a direct result 
of the war has never been accurately determined, but 
it has been estimated as high as sixteen hundred, or 
more than one third the total population at the outbreak 
of hostilities. It is known that at least twelve hundred 
Nantucket seamen were killed or captured by the Brit- 
ish. Can even Belgium, with all her misery, show any 
greater proportionate sacrifice than this? So far as the 
property loss is concerned, the shipping destroyed, lost 
or captured probably represented a much larger invest- 
ment of capital than all the buildings on the island, for 
one ship, even a small one, costs the price of many 
good houses, and Nantucket at that time owned a ship 
for every three or four houses. 

Food was at times so scarce that a considerable 
part of the population, if not actually at the point of 
starvation, rarely had enough to eat, and hunger was 
the chronic condition with many. There is a quaint old 
expression, still current to some extent on the island, 
which illustrates the state of afliairs better than any- 
thing which might be written on this point. It is re- 
lated that during the worst time a man named Meader 
called on a neighbor to borrow a hammer. When asked 
what he wanted it for, he replied: "To knock out my 
teeth with; I've got no further use for 'em!" Meader 
may have been something of a wag, or he may have ex- 
aggerated a bit, but to this day if an old time Nan- 


tucketer does not want a thing, he is apt to say: "I've 
got no more use for it than Meader had for his teeth." 

There has been an occasional disposition in cer- 
tain quarters to criticise the Nantucketers of that peri- 
od for attempting to make terms with the British au- 
thorities, and to secure immunity from attack by of- 
fering to pledge the neutrality of the island in the 
controversy. It has even been said that the islanders 
were disloyal to the cause of liberty, and that their 
record is one to be ashamed of. Let us examine the 
charge calmly and dispassionately before passing a has- 
ty judgment. 

It is a well-known fact, though only recently gen- 
erally recognized and admitted, that at the outbreak of 
the Revolution and for a considerable time thereafter 
there was an honest difference of opinion in the colonies 
between perfectly sincere, conscientious and worthy 
people as to the wisdom of open rebellion against Brit- 
ish rule. To many of the colonists, who hoped and be- 
lieved that the desired results might be attained by 
other methods, the thought of fighting the mother coun- 
try was abhorrent. These people called themselves 
"Loyalists." They were called "Tories" by the in- 
dependence-at-any-price faction, who called themselves 
"Patriots," while the Loyalists dubbed all who disa- 
greed with them "rebels." The situation as it exist- 
ed, say in the spring of 1775, has not been made very 
clear to us in our school histories, and some of us have 
grown uiJ with the impression that the sentiment for 
separation wa practically unanimous, and that any who 
opposed it were rather reprehensible characters. 


As the rebellion grew to the strength of a revolu- 
tion, those Loyalists who still remained unconverted 
suffered much for their opinions; many of them lost all 
or much of their property, and many were compelled to 
flee for their lives to Canada or elsewhere. 

As is usually the case in such circumstances, the 
property-owning class were inclined to favor the status 
quo, at least till something better was assured, while 
those who had everything to gain and nothing to lose by 
independence were the more active and ardent "Patri 
ots." Of course there were, as always, notable ex- 
ceptions to this rule, who, according to the old axiom, 
helped to prove it. It is quite probable that the num- 
ber of Loyalists or Tories, as compared with the Patri- 
ots or Rebels, was greater in proportion to the total 
population here than elsewhere, and when we consider 
how much Nantucket had at stake in the issue, this is 
perhaps not to be wondered at. In the event of war, 
whatever the result, she stood to lose all, while peace 
meant safety and continued prosperity. It was a pretty 
severe test, and one to which few communities were 
put, at least to quite the same degree. 

When, in addition to these considerations, we re- 
member that a very large proportion of the people were 
Quakers, and that peace was one of the strongest ten- 
ets of their religion, we can readily see that the avoid- 
ance of a conflict was of paramount importance to them. 
All they asked was to be let alone, but alas! this was 
just w^iat neither side would agree to. 

The peculiarly exposed position of the island laid 
it open to attack by any armed vessel ; its wealth and 


importance made it a prize worth striving for; the peo- 
ple, being unarmed, had no means of defending them- 
selves, and the Continental Congress was not in a posi- 
tion to afford them any protection. Their industries 
being almost exclusively maritime, they were depend- 
ent upon the outside world for the bulk of their food 
supplies. The vessels they sent to the mainland for 
provisions were, whenever possible, intercepted by the 
British, the cargoes confiscated, and the crews impris- 
oned on the ground that, whatever their sympathies, 
they could not be allowed to trade with rebels. If they 
sought cargoes from the West Indies or elsewhere 
abroad, they were accused of smuggling by the Colonial 
authorities, to whose laws they were, nominally at 
least, subject. 

Thus they were between the devil and the deep 
sea. Flour rose to thirty dollars a barrel, corn to three 
dollars a bushel, with other provisions in proportion; 
fuel became so scarce that the price was practically pro- 
hibitive; hardware, textiles and manufactured goods in 
general were almost impossible to obtain at any price. 
Yet, in spite of all, they kept some ships at sea 
throughout the war— a few still taking the desperate 
chances at whaling, while some of the smaller vessels 
engaged in the West India trade, which proved very 
profitable if they succeeded in evading the swarms of 
British privateers and letters of marque which soon in- 
fested the coast. Fishing on the nearby shoals was pros- 
ecuted to some extent, but the scarcity of salt for cur- 
ing the catch, despite the fact that some was manufac- 
tured on the island, prevented those who engaged in it 


from deriving the advantage from this industry which 
might otherwise have accrued to them. 

Gradually the savings of years of prosperity were 
exhausted, and many who were well off when the war 
began were reduced almost to penury, while the less 
fortunate were practically destitute. 

At first the troubles of the Nantucketers were 
principally with the Colonial authorities, the impression 
being apparently that the islanders were favorable to 
the cause of the Tories and would bear watching. As 
early as May 23, 1775, scarcely a month after the bat- 
tle of Lexington, a vessel arrived with a hundred or 
more Provincial troops, who landed and marched up 
from the wharf with drums beating and colors flying, 
claiming they had come to seize a quantity of flour 
which they alleged had been landed at Nantucket, but 
which was intended for the eventual use of the British. 
This force remained for four days, taking no flour, but 
carrying off some fifty whale-boats with them when they 

Other expeditions came during the summer to in- 
vestigate reports of alleged shipments of oil to Eng- 
land, either already made or contemplated. In October 
Richard Mitchell and Stephen Hussey went to Boston to 
try and get authority to have provisions and supplies 
brought to the island. In December Dr. Samuel Gelaton 
was arrested and taken away by a squad of colonial 
troops on suspicion of Tory sympathies and of giving 
aid and counsel to the enemy. 

In March, 1776, the Congress passed an order that 
no Nantucket vessel should be supplied with provisions 


without a permit in writing signed by three justices of 
the peace at Barnstable. 

As soon as the British were in possession of the 
ports which they succeeded in taking early in the war, 
they began fitting out privateers and letters of marque 
to prey on the commerce of the colonies. These soon 
took a hand in the persecution of the Nantucketeis, who 
were subjected to a series of annoying and inquisitorial 
acts — ostensibly to ascertain if they were aiding the 
rebels, but probably in reality with the hope of secur- 
ing more or less booty. 

Nantucket lying conveniently in the path of the 
armed ships of both belligerents, and being practically 
defenseless, each side, when it had nothing better to 
do, seemed determined on trying to prove that she was 
helping the other. Though she could get no supplies 
for herself, badly as she needed them, she was accused 
by each of furnishing them to the enemy. 

So the weary years dragged on. No actual depre- 
dations of serious consequence were committed until the 
year 1779, when, on the 6th of April, a fleet of eight 
armed British vessels arrived at the Bar, two of which 
entered the harbor and came up to the wharf. A force 
of about a hundred men was landed, and several stores 
and warehouses plundered of goods to the value of over 
fifty thousand dollars, one Thomas Jenkins being the 
chief sufferer. Many of the bolder spirits among the 
townspeople were for resenting this outrage by a show 
of force, but the Quaker principles of non-resistance, 
even under these exasperating circumstances, ruled the 


more influential, and their counsels finally prevailed; 
so the freebooters departed unmolested. 

However much we may wish that on that occasion 
our ancestors had put up just one good fight and driven 
the invaders from their soil, a moment's consideration 
of the probable reprisals which would certainly have 
been visited upon them had they done so will convince 
us that any resistance would have been not only use- 
less, but foolhardy in the extreme. The town would 
have been at once bombarded and probably destroyed, 
and under cover of the cannonading from the ships a 
force of several hundred men could easily have been 
landed, against which the unarmed townspeople would 
have been powerless. 

It is only fair to the Nantucketers to say at this 
time that many of them showed they were not lacking in 
courage by fighting throughout the war for the cause of 
independence — even though their services were not ren- 
dered at home. Especially in the young American navy 
there is evidence that Nantucket sailors served long and 
well. As an instance of this, out of a crew of a hun- 
dred and thirty-one men on the famous American priva- 
teer "Ranger," commanded by John Paul Jones, no 
less than twenty-one hailed from Nantucket. Of that 
crew Jones said: "It was the best crew I have ever 
seen and, I believe, the best afloat." 

Two months after the raid above referred to a 
committee, comprising Benjamin Tupper, Timothy Fol- 
ger, Samuel Starbuck and William Rotch, was appoint- 
ed by the town to go to New York and Newport and 
present the case of the islanders to the British com- 


manders at those ports. This committee returned with 
the assurance of Commodore Sir George Collier, in com- 
mand at New York, seconded by Gen. Sir Henry Clin- 
ton, of a favorable disposition toward the town, and 
that everything possible would be done to prevent a re- 
currence of these acts of hostility. The Commodore's 
orders expressly forbade all vessels or bodies of armed 
men to molest, ravage or plunder the estates, houses or 
persons of the inhabitants of the island. Notwithstand- 
ing these assurances, however, early in the September 
following a squadron of armed vessels appeared at the 
Vineyard with the announced intention of sacking and 
plundering the town of Nantucket, awaiting only a fa- 
vorable wind to cross the sound and begin the attack. 
A communication from the commanders of the expedi- 
tion was sent to the island, accusing the people, on the 
evidence of one John Boswell, of acts hostile to His 
Majesty's interests and favorable to those of the enemy. 
To this the town, by Frederick Folger, Town Clerk, re- 
plied at some length, denying the charges in toto and 
making counter accusations that British vessels which 
had visited the port had violated the assurances given 
to the townspeople by Commodore Collier. The wind 
still holding unfavorable, before this answer could be 
delivered the fleet sailed for New York, and it after- 
ward appeared that the expedition was not authorized 
by the British commander-in-chief, but was promoted 
by over-zealous Loyalists who were, apparently, in very 
truth "more loyalist than the king himself." 

The year 1780 was perhaps the worst of the war — 
the winter of greatest discontent for the islanders. By 


the 20th of December, 1779, the harbor was closed by 
ice, and it remained frozen throughout the winter. This 
protected the town from attack, but it also prevented 
the arrival of even the few supplies which might other- 
wise have reached the people, and the suffering was pro- 
longed and intense. Deep snow made it difficult to secure 
what little fuel was available in the form of peat and 
brushwood from the swamps. Obed Macy states that 
the entire harbor was frozen so firmly that for some 
time horses and calashes were regularly employed in 
carting scrub oak and cedar across the ice from Coskata 
to town, a distance of som.e eight miles or more. 

All through the year 1781 the people were sub- 
jected to many wanton annoyances and humiliations by 
the British privateers, and various minor depredations 
were committed, until finally, on October 23d, another 
deputation was sent to New York with a memorial to 
Admiral Digby, than in command of the English fleet 
there, asking for protection from these raids. The ad- 
miral "gave his positive order to prevent further mo- 
lestation of persons or property within the bar of the 
harbor." The committee, which included Samuel Star- 
buck, William Rotch and Benjamin Hussey, then re- 
newed the petition to be allowed to engage in whaling. 
As a result of their representations a considerable num- 
ber of individual permits were granted to Nantucket 
ships, but the islanders were by that time so reduced 
and impoverished in both men and money that they 
were unable to make the most of the opportunity thus 
offered. A few short voyages were undertaken, with 
some success, but several of the ships carrying these 


permits were captured by American privateers and tak- 
en into port, where, strange to say, the Colonial au- 
thorities usually recognized the British permits — at 
least to the extent of releasing the ships as soon as the 
facts were made known. 

By 1782 peace was in the air, and conditions grad- 
ually improved, though the final treaty, recognizing the 
independence of the colonies, was not ratified until early 
in 1784, and by that time Nantucket had well-nigh 
reached the end of her resources. About eighty-five 
per cent, of all her shipping, in actual tonnage, had 
been lost, cajitured or destroyed, and even the most op- 
timistic spirits could hardly hope that the place would 
ever recover its former importance and prosperity. 

Even before the war began there had been one or 
two emigrations of a considerable number of Nantuck- 
et families to other points, with the hope of bettering 
their condition. One of the earliest dates from about 
1761, when quite a large colony of Nantucketers and 
Cape Codders removed to Nova Scotia, settling at Bar- 
rington, near Cape Sable, where many of their descen- 
dants survive to this day. Naturally these movements 
were accelerated and new ones inaugurated as a result 
of the war. Just before and during the Revolution a 
large number moved to the vicinity of Saratoga, and 
in 1783 many families migrated to a ])oint on the Hud- 
son river then known as Claverack Landing, the name 
being changed a year later to Hudson. It is perhaps 
not Huri)rising that this place later attained some prom- 
inence as a whaling ])ort. 

Other early migrations were to Poughkeepsie and 


Nine Partnera, N. Y., New Garden, N. C, and Vassal- 
boro and Kennebec, Me., and at all of these places de- 
scendants of Nantucketers may still be found. 

After the war conditions were so unfavorable for a 
time that some of the more active ship-owners and mer- 
chants sought opportunity to engage in business in Eu- 

William Rotch, who was one of the leading spirits, 
commercially, transferred his affairs for a time to Dun- 
kirk, France, where he sent out a number of whale- 
ships between 1786 and 1794, employing many Nan- 
tucket captains and seamen. He also carried on the 
business for a time at Milford Haven, England, but af- 
ter conditions improved he returned to Nantucket. The 
large brick building at the foot of Main street, at the 
corner of Straight Wharf, in which the Pacific Club 
(long known as "The Cap'ns' Room") is located, was 
built in 1772 by William Rotch, as an office and ware- 
house, and it is sometimes spoken of as "Rotch'g mar- 



ALTHOUGH peace was hailed nowhere with great- 
er joy and thanksgiving than at Nantucket, busi- 
ness did not at once recover, and the depression lasted 
for some years. Great losses were sustained through 
the depreciation of the large amount of paper currency 
which had been the principal circulating medium dur- 
ing the war, and which had become practically value- 
less. The loss of so many ships, the depletion of cap- 
ital in the various industries, and, still more, the lack 
of active and able-bodied men, due to the death of so 
many of the seamen as well as to emigration — which 
still continued to some extent — all added to the difficul- 
ty of re-establishing the business which had formerly 
proved so prosperous, and the first cautious ventures 
were made with many misgivings. But at first oil com- 
manded a good price, whales were plentiful and com- 
paratively tame by reason of long immunity from pur- 
suit, and a few good voyages were made, which en- 
couraged them to continue. 

As early as February, 1783, a cargo of oil was 
shipped from the island to London in the ship Bedford, 
Captain William Moocrs, and this vessel had the honor 
of first displaying the Stars and Stripes in a British 
port. The oil brought a good price, but to encourage 


home industry England soon put a hifih duty on oil from 
abroad and offered bounties to her own whalemen, 
practically closing her market. The colonies, impover- 
ished by the war, were unable to take even the limited 
amount of oil which Nantucket was soon producing. A 
market was sought in France, and v>'ith some success 
for a time, but the domestic difficulties then gathering 
in that unhappy country soon put an end to the whale- 
men's hopes there. 

In 1785 the General Court of Massachusetts came 
to the rescue with an act granting a bounty of five 
pounds per ton for white, and sixty shillings per ton 
for brown or yellow spermaceti, and forty shillings per 
ton for whale oil, taken by ships owned and manned 
wholly by citizens of the Commonwealth. The princi- 
pal effect of this well-intentioned measure was to so 
stimulate whaling at other ports that there was soon an 
over-production; the price dropped still lower, and the 
bounty was soon withdrawn, Nantucket having gained 
little beside increased competition. 

Many of the older men went into cod-fishing, a 
few "bankers" were fitted out and met with some suc- 
cess, and there was even talk of substituting this in- 
dustry for whaling — at least until conditions improved. 
But the Nantucketers did not take kindly to the idea; 
they were whalers first, last and all the time, and were 
quite willing to leave the cod to the "Capies" and 
Marbleheaders. So they persevered in spite of adverse 
conditions, and at last the tide began to turn slowly in 
their favor. 

Taking all these difficulties into consideration, and 


the fact that they had to make practically a new start 
after the war, it is a truly remarkable thing to be able 
to record that in less than ten years after peace was 
assured, Nantucket was again on the high road to pros- 
perity. The number of ships at sea, though only a 
fraction of the fleet before the war, was constantly in- 
creasing, larger ships were being employed, and the voy- 
ages were lengthening as new "grounds" were discov- 
ered and worked. The manufacture of sperm candles, 
which had been tried on a small scale before the war, 
was now rapidly developed, and soon became an impor- 
tant industry. 

In 1791 the ship Beaver, Captain Paul Worth, 
doubled Cape Horn, and other Nantucket whalers soon 
followed. A few English whalers had already entered 
the Pacific, but it remained for the Nantucketers to 
fully realize the possibilities of this marvellously rich 
field for their enterprise, and in the half century or 
more following these first ventures "round the Horn," 
the great Pacific was home for most of the active years 
of life to thousands of Nantucket men, the few weeks 
or months spent ashore being merely holiday incidents. 
They explored it from Antarctic to Arctic circle and be- 
yond, from the western coast of North and South Amer- 
ica to Japan, China and Australia, and thence through 
the Indian Ocean to the east coast of Africa, often re- 
turning by way of the Cape of Good Hope. Much of 
their cruising ground was then uncharted, and it is said 
that no less than thirty islands in the Pacific Ocean 
were discovered and named by the Nantucket whalemen. 
The "Off-Shore Grounds," "On Japan," -and other fa- 


mouB whaling localities were familiar names to all 
Nantucketers in the old days, and millions of good dol- 
lars were taken in this mightiest of oceans and brought 
to our little island to add to the comfort and luxury of 
its people. 

There is perhaps nothing quite like it in all history 
— that a little community of a few thousand souls, lo- 
cated on a barren isle far from the centres of trade and 
commerce, should have sent their tiny wooden ships 
literally to the uttermost ends of the earth, to return 
laden with wealth, seized from the very ocean itself! 
Even the stories of Carthage, Rome and Venice are not 
more wonderful to recall ; for those were all great cit- 
ies, nations in fact, while Nantucket, even at the 
height of her prosperity, was scarcely more than a ham- 
let. Moreover, much of the wealth of those famous 
cities of old was obtained, if not by actual plunder, at 
least by methods of which the less said the better, 
while the riches acquired by our ancestors were the re- 
sult of honest toil and hardship — by which no man 
suffered wrong and many profited much. 

It may be of interest to quote from Obed Macy's 
history some particulars of that first Pacific ocean voy- 
age, which the historian received from Captain Worth 
himself. The "Beaver" was of 240 tons burthen, and 
cost, completely equipped for the voyage, $10,212. 
She carried a crew of 17 men and manned three boats 
of five men each. Casks in "shooks," to a capacity of 
1800 barrels, formed the bulk of her outward cargo. 
For provisions she took 40 barrels of salted meats, 
three and a half tons of ship bread, 30 bushels of beans 


and pea3, 1000 pounds of rice, 40 gallons of molasses, 
and 24 barrels of flour. These supplies, with the ad- 
dition of only 200 pounds of bread, bought in a foreign 
port, sufficed for a voyage of 17 month?. She brought 
home 650 barrels of sperm oil, worth £30 a ton, 370 
barrels of head matter, worth £60 a ton, and 250 bar- 
rels of whale oil, worth £15 per ton. 

By the very simple process of reducing pounds 
sterling to dollars and barrels to tons, and a few mo- 
ments' calculation, the exact value of her return cargo 
may readily be ascertained by the curious reader. 

In 1795 Governor Lovelace's euphonious but mean- 
ingless name of Sherburne was dropped forever, and the 
name Nantucket, by which both the island and the 
county were known, was given to the town as well. In 
the same year the first bank was established, and a few 
months later it was robbed of some twenty thousand 
dollars, the incident creating great excitement at the 

The year 1798 brought troubles and discourage- 
ment by reason of the difficulties then existing between 
England and France. There was little law on the high 
seas at the best in those times, and privateers of all 
the leading maritime nations of Europe had long been 
carrying on a species of semi-official piracy, under one 
pretext or another, any defenceless ship being a likely 
victim. During this latest disturbance four Nantucket 
ships, with their cargoes, were seized — entailing a 
money loss of something like $150,000. These depre- 
dations were committed from time to time for some 
years, and no ship was safe unless well-armed or fast- 


er than her would-be captors. Yet despite these dan- 
gers, and notwithstanding all the losses of the Revolu- 
tion and the large emigrations from the island, we find 
that at the beginning of the nineteenth century Nan- 
tucket's population had increased to over fifty-six hun- 
dred, and it was still growing rapidly. Even the in- 
creasing and studied hostility of England and her many 
annoyances to American shipping failed to check the 
progress which the island was making, and the first dec- 
ade of the century shows a steady and consistent growth 
in population, wealth and commerce. 

The Pacific Bank was founded in 1804, two insur- 
ance companies v/ere established the same year, many 
new and substantial buildings were being erected, and 
by ISIO the population had reached nearly seven thou- 
sand. If this does not sound very large in these mod- 
ern times, it would be well to compare the figures with 
the population of many of the leading cities and towns 
of New England at that period, and it will be seen that 
Nantucket must have been a place of considerable im- 
portance by comparison even with the leaders. At one 
time, it is said, the town ranked third in wealth and 
commerce among the tovv'ns of Massachusetts, being ex- 
ceeded only by Boston and Salem. 

The first ship built on Nantucket was launched at 
Brant Point in 1810, and was christened "Rose." In 
1811 seventeen ships and seven schooners sailed from 
the port, and in the next year the total island fleet 
numbered 116, including 43 ships, 7 brigs, 19 schoon- 
ers and 4 sloops. More than three-quarters of these 
vessels were at sea when the second war with England 


broke out, and the sensations of the islanders at this 
time, with the memory of the Revolution still fresh in 
the minds of all who had reached or passed middle age, 
may be better imagined than described. 

On May 5, 1812, a little over a month before the 
actual declaration of war, when it had become evident 
that hostilities were impending, the inhabitants of Nan- 
tucket, in town meeting assembled, memorialized the 
Congress of the United States, setting forth their de- 
fenceless situation and condition, and praying that the 
war might be averted. But even if such an appeal 
could have had any effect, matters had then gone too far, 
and war was declared on June 18th. 

As before, during the Revolution, the Quakers 
were determined to take no active part in the contro- 
versy, and as they had increased in strength and influ- 
ence to the point of practically controlling the politics 
of the town, they tried to keep on good terms with 
both sides — with the natural result that they were 
trusted by neither, and were suspected by each of being 
favorable to the other. 

Before the British minister left Washington they 
planned to appeal to him to use his influence with his 
government to secure immunity from attack for them- 
selves and their ships, and the petition was actually 
drawn; but it was never sent and the idea was finally 

In July a Nantucket whaler, the Mount Hope, was 
captured and burned by a British cruiser near the Gulf 
Stream, and her crew were made prisoners of war. 
This was the first of many similar experiences, and 


from that time on most of the terrible incidents of the 
former war were re-enacted, with many new and dis- 
tressing experiences added for full measure. 

Gradually but surely the accumulated fortunes of 
years of toil and sacrifice were again swept away, busi- 
ness was practically at a standstill, and suffering and 
privation again ruled where such a brief time before 
had been happiness and abundance. 

Verily our little island community has paid the 
price of war. while reaping none of the alleged advan- 
tages of victory ! 

Stocks of provisions soon ran low, and the price of 
grain rose to a prohibitive figure. Fuel was scarce, 
and none could be hoped for from abroad, for the few 
small vessels which took the desperate chance of es- 
caping the enemy's cruisers and privateers needed all 
their cargo room for such food supplies as they could 

In November the people appealed directly to Presi- 
dent Madison for relief to avert famine, and, keeping 
always in mind their main business, begged leave to 
ask "if any stipulation can consistently be effected 
with Great Britain whereby the cod and whale fisheries 
of both nations may be exempted from the ravages of 
war." But not even this concession to the cod availed 
to help the situation. 

Matters went from bad to worse during 1813, and 
finally, to cap the climax, notice was received of a di- 
rect tax of five thousand dollars to be levied on the 
town for war purposes by the Federal authorities. An- 
other memorial was despatched to Congress, the memo- 


rialists shrewdly obsorving Ihat the tax "appaari to 
have been contemplated for the defence of the coun- 
try," but that "tht'ir detached situation from the con- 
tinent their exposed and defenceless con- 
dition, which renders it impossible for adecjuate defence 
to be afforded, are circumstances which they believe are 
but partially known to Congress." 

A promise was at last given by the authorities to 
mitigate, as far as might be possible, the restrictions 
of the embargo on commerce then in force, so as to per- 
mit the shipment of provisions and other necessaries to 
the island. But with swift armed vessels of the enemy 
constantly patrolling the Sound, even the most favora- 
ble disposition to helj) the situation was of little avail 
without the means to accomplish the end desired. 

Getting no aid from their ov/n country, the people 
finally turned to the enemy for relief, and in July, 
1814, the Selectmen qualified Silvanus Macy and Isaac 
Coflin as commissioners, and sent them in the sloop 
Hawk, David Starbuck, Master, under a flag of truce 
"to Chesapeake Bay or elsewhere, there to treat with 
the British naval commander-in-chief on the North 
American station." 

The Hawk sought Admiral Cochrane, then in com- 
mand, first at Bermuda, but just missed him; so they 
sailed again for the Chesapeake. The admiral, howev- 
er, having heard of the situation at the island, had left 
instructions with Commodore Hotham, in command at 
New London, and soon after the commissioners left the 
island assurances had been received from the Commo- 
dore that a limited number of passports would be issued 


for vessels to go to the mainland for supplies, upon a 
stipulation of strict neutrality on the part of the people 
of Nantucket, and that "if it be found that they pay 
any direct taxes or internal duties for the support of 
the Government of the United States, I will withdraw 
this indulgence forthwith, and will call upon them to 
pay double the amount to His Majesty's government." 

This was a delicate situation for the good Quakers 
vvho controlled the affairs of the town, and they were 
in a quandary. What could they do? Was there a way 
out? They thought so, and here is what they did. 
They memorialized Congress once more, stating the 
terms on v/hich the enemy would allow them to save 
themselves from starvation, and asked that the collec- 
tion of all Federal taxes due from them be suspended. 
Then they advised Commodore Hotham of their action, 
and added this most significant paragraph : 

"But to remove all doubt of the intention of the 
inhabitants fully to comply, as far as practicable, with 
the requisitions of the Honorable Sir Alexander Coch- 
rane, the officer deputed to collect the taxes upon the 
island was prevailed upon immediately to resign his 
commission. We feel confident that no inhabitant of 
the island will accept the appointment as collector, and 
that no stranger will expose himself so much as he nec- 
essarily must to hold this undesirable office. Under 
these circumstances we are persuaded no taxes will be 

In the language of the world's people of our own 
day and time, "Can you beat it?" 

But Hotham was not to be bluffed, and immediate- 


ly came back at them with a demand for a direct an- 
swer as to "whether the town is determined to refuse 
the payment of the direct taxes and internal duties 
which are or shall be required by the government of 
the United States?" 

Another town meeting was called. Obed Macy, 
himself a Quaker, ingenuously states, doubtless from 
memory, that "many of the inhabitants, believing that 
the business was about to be conducted in a way to 
bring the censure of their government, if nothing moi'e, 
upon them, concluded that it would be safer for them 
not to attend the meeting." 

However, the meeting was held, and it was voted 
not to pay any tax to the United States government 
while the war lasted; to appoint a committee to enforce 
the neutrality agreed upon; and to prevent the carrying 
off of any provisions from the island except by Admiral 
Hotham's permission. The irony of this last vote must 
have been keenly relished by the hungry voters. 

What might have developed from this decidedly 
risky situation if the war had lasted much longer, is 
an interesting conjecture. This meeting was held on 
September 28, 1814. In October negotiations for peace 
were begun, and all else was doubtless forgotten. 

The only actual battle fought on or near Nantucket 
in either war occurred on the evening of October 10, 
1814, when the American privateer Prince of Neuchatel, 
convoying the British merchantman Douglas as a prize, 
was attacked near the south shore of the island by five 
armed boats from the British frigate l^ndymion. The 
battle was brief, but sanguinary, the frigate's boats 


being repulsed with the loss of about a hundred and 
twenty men killed and taken prisoners, three of the 
boats having been sunk. Nantucket's only connection 
with the affair was the fact that the pilot, whose name 
was Kilburn, was a Nantucketer, and he was one of five 
men who were killed on the privateer. 

Peace was proclaimed in February, 1815, and Nan- 
tucket found heraelf again prostrated by war, with only 
twenty-three ships of her fleet left; and once again she 
took up the task of rehabilitation. 



flVTANTUCKET recovered much more rapidly from 
J^ the effects of "the war of '12," a3 it came to 
be called, than from the Revolution. The demand for 
oil had increased greatly during the generation which had 
elapsed, and the market was much more widely extend- 
ed. No serious competitor in the whaling business had 
yet arisen abroad, despite all the efforts of some of the 
European nations to foster and encourage the industry. 
Though New Bedford was growing rapidly in impor- 
tance as a whaling port, and her output eventually ex- 
ceeded Nantucket's, so long as the ships employed were 
not of too deep a draught to permit their passage over 
the bar which extends across the harbor entrance, the 
island managed to hold its own. 

During the year 1815 twenty-six ships and twen- 
ty-four otlier vessels of all kinds cleared from the port, 
and many of these were whalers bound for the Pacific. 
In 1818 Capt. George W. Gardner, in the ship Globe, 
discovered the "Oft' Shore Grounds," so called, extend- 
ing, roughly, from about five to ten degrees south, and 
from about one hundred and five to one hundred and 
twenty-five degrees west, off the coast of Chile and Pe- 
ru. The Globe took over two thousand barrels of sperm 
oil in this vicinity in a few months, and the following 


year there were some fifty or more whalers there. In 
the next year, 1819, ship Maro, Capt. Joseph Allen, 
cruised to the v/estward of Japan, and discovered the 
famous "Japan Grounds. " These proved the richest 
fields yet opened up, and some wonderful voyages were 
made during the next decade after their discovery. 

The first regular schedule of steam communication 
established in New England went into operation in 
1818, when the little steamer "Eagle," of about eighty 
tons, began making regular trips between Nantucket 
and New Bedford. 

By the year 1820 seventy-two whalers were owned 
at the island, and the population had increased to near- 
ly seventy-three hundred. The Nantucket Mechanic's 
Association was organized that year^ — -to be followed 
three years later by the Columbian Literary Association. 
The two were merged in 1827 under the name of the 
United Library Association, and in 1834 this was in- 
corporated under the name of the Nantucket Athenae- 
um Library and Museum, an institution of which every 
true Nantucketer, from that day to this, has been just- 
ly proud. 

In 1827 two public schools virere opened, pro- 
viding free education up to the grammar grades, and 
the Coffin school, established and endowed by Admiral 
Sir Isaac Coffin, Bart., of the British Navy, was opened 
the same year, primarily for the benefit of descendants 
of Tristram Coffin, but as it was soon found that this 
would include nearly if not quite all the descendants of 
any of the old families, the line was not drawn very 
strictly, and any pupil able to pay the small tuition re- 


quired was admitted — up to the capacity of the institu- 

Ship Lopez, Capt. Obed Starbuck, made a remark- 
able voyage in 1829-30, taking 2280 barrels of sperm 
oil, worth $50,000, in fourteen months, and in 1830 ship 
Sarah, Capt. Frederick Arthur, arrived, after a voyage 
lacking one month of three years, with the largest 
amount of sperm ever brought in before or since, 3497 
barrels, valued at $98,000. During the five years im- 
mediately before and succeeding 1830 Nantucket pro- 
duced from forty to fifty thousand barrels of sperm oil 

About this time the first great split in the ranks 
of the Quakers occurred, the "Hicksites," who were 
followers of Elias Hicks, and stood for a more liberal 
faith and greater liberty of individual belief, seceding 
from the main body. The movement soon spread to 
Nantucket, and the Hicksites erected a large new meet- 
ing house of their own on the west side of Fair street, 
just south of the building now owned and occupied by 
the Nantucket Historical Society, which was at first 
used as a Friends' school house, but afterward, as the 
Society dwindled in numbers, became the meeting house. 
Other divisions occurred soon after this first one, and 
the Wilburites and Gurneyites, followers of John Wil- 
bur and Joseph Gurney, respectively, were engaged in 
a long litigation over the ownership of the Fair street 
property. The Gurneyites, though tliey finally pre- 
vailed in the courts, had meantime l)uilt a meeting 
house of their own on Centre street, which, with some 
alterations, is now used as the main dining room of the 


Roberts House. Partly as a result of these schisms, 
and partly because of the growing worldliness of the 
younger Quakers, due in great measure to the uncom- 
promising attitude of the leaders, the society gradually 
lost ground from that time. 

The population in 1830 was 7202. 

In 1835 Daniel Webster visited the island to try 
an important case, and he was so impressed with the 
size and importance of the town that he called it "the 
unknown city in the ocean." It is related that the 
shrewd Quaker litigant who employed "the Great Ex- 
pounder" made a deal with him in advance to pay him 
five hundred dollars, stipulating that he was to have all 
Mr. Webster's time and energy during the term of 
court, and that he then farmed out the services of the 
eminent counsel to other litigants, clearing a handsome 
profit on the transaction. "Friend Daniel" is said to 
have keenly appreciated the joke on himself. 

The country-wide financial panic of 1836-37 hit 
Nantucket rather hard, the banks entirely suspending 
specie payments for some time, but business soon re- 
covered, and a new era of prosperity began. In 1838 
occurred the first great fire which had visited Nantuck- 
et, entailing a loss of nearly $300,000 to buildings and 
contents along the water front south of Main street. 
Ship Joseph Starbuck, the largest and finest ship ever 
built at Nantucket, was launched at Brant Point in 
that year. The first public high school was established 
in 1838, with Cyrus Pierce as principal. 

The census of 1840 showed a population of nine 
thousand, seven hundred and twelve, and as the climax 


of the whalinj:^ business was not reached till a few 
years later, it is probable that some time about 1842 
or 1843 the ten thousand mark was reached and passed, 
though there is no official record to that eftect. In 
1841 twenty-nine ships fitted for sea, and the record 
for the next five years is as follows: 1812, 14; 1843, 
16; 1844, 15; 1845, 29; 1846, 14. In 1842, which 
is usually considered the hij^h water mark in the his- 
tory of the port, about ninety ships of all kinds, with 
an aggregate of over thirty-six thousand tons, hailed 
from this little port. 

Those were the palmy days of Nantucket. With 
a whale-ship arriving or one departing nearly every 
week in the year, and in some weeks two or three, 
with a score or more ships always at the wharves, eith- 
er fitting for a voyage or discharging cargo, every one 
was busj' from sun to sun. The v;ater front was a 
scene of constant activity, being lined with Vv-arehouses, 
refineries, candle and candle-box factories, coopers', 
carpenters', blacksmiths' and boat builders' fhops, 
rope walks, sail lofts, outfitting, hardware and grocery 
stores, ship chandlers and various other stores and 
shops of every description, all busy and prosperous. It 
is hard to realize it now, as we walk along those quiet 
lanes and note only a few fishing boats or pleasure 
craft hauled up at the rotting wharves or moored in the 

Packets to and from Boston, New York, New Red- 
ford and other ports, were constantly arriving and de- 
parting, bringing supplies for the ships and the towns- 
people, and carrying to the mainland the various fin- 


ished products of the whale. Great drays, loaded with 
casks and merchandise, rumbled all day over the cob- 
bles, and the wharves were piled high with goods in 
hogsheads, bales and cases. Everything smelled of tar 
and oil, and the air resounded'with the varied noises of 
a great industry, the shouts of the workers and the 
chanties of the sailor-men. Staid old Quakers, mer- 
chants and ship owners, in broadcloth and broad-brims, 
sat in their counting houses and gave orders, or paced 
sedately up and down the streets and wharves in and 
out through the busy traffic. Though on a limited 
scale, the old town had all the characteristics of a 
great commercial metropolis, and was proportionately 
quite as prosperous and bustling as even London or 
New York. 

Voyages now lasted all the way from two to four 
years, according to luck, for few ships turned their 
prows toward home unless their holds were well filled, 
and if it took four years, or even longer, to do it, they 
stayed that length of time. Many months and some- 
times a year or more passed withuut word from home, 
for the maritime mail delivery on the Pacific was very 
much a matter of chance. Every outward-bound whal- 
er carried letters for men on other ships in the fleet, 
and those homeward bound carried return mail for the 
island, but it was a large area to cover, and weeks and 
months often passed without a sail being raised on the 
horizon. When two whalers "spoke" each other on the 
high seas, it was the custom, if no whales were in 
sight, to heave to and have a "gam" — that is, a visit 
and a talk. The captains exchanged calls, and tho3« 


sailors who were lucky enough to be in the captain's 
boat had a chance to vary the monotony of life by see- 
ing some new faces, and swapping jackknives and to- 
bacco. Sometimes, when two ships were "in com- 
pany" for several days, as often happened, all hands 
on both ships had a chance to meet and gam for awhile. 
Libraries were usually exchanged in toto on such 
occasions, for the few books carried on a whaler had 
usually been read and re-read many times by all on 
board who had any taste for reading. Whalemen were 
rich in leisure, for the crews were much larger than on 
a merchantman, six men being required to man each 
boat, besides enough to work the ship when the boats 
were down after whales, and as the smaller ships car- 
ried three boats and the larger ones four, at least, the 
crews averaged twenty-five or thirty men. If a ship 
was short-handed from death, accident or desertions, 
men were shipped wherever they could be found. Many 
natives of the South Sea islands shipped on the whal- 
ers, all going under the generic name of "Kanakas," 
regardless of the group from which they hailed. Most 
outward-bound whalers ran east to the Azores before 
heading south to clear the Horn. Often a whale might 
be taken in that vicinity to "grease the ship," and 
then there was always a chance of shipping a man or 
two at Fayal, and getting some fresh vegetables cheap. 
These Portuguese from the "Western Islands", as the 
Azores were called, made excellent whalemen, and a 
great many of them, after a few voyages, settled at 
Nantucket, married and raised families. They were 


almost invariably sober, thrifty, frugal and industrious, 
and proved themselves good citizens. 

In the forties and fifties Nantucket received her 
full share of the large Irish immigration of that pe- 
riod, and some of that race took to the sea and became 
smart whalemen. Most of the Irish immigrants of that 
day were of the better class of agricultural laborers, 
and they developed remarkably under the favorable con- 
ditions found here. Many of their descendants in the 
second and third generation are among the leading citi- 
zens of the island in these times. A few other immi- 
grants came also. 

These various accessions of new and different 
stocks were undoubtedly a good thing for the island, 
for, as might be expected in view of its isolated posi- 
tion and lack of direct contact with other towns, the 
descendants of the early settlers had intermarried until, 
as they used to say, "most everyone is related to most 
everyone else here"; and it is a well-known fact that 
such a condition of affairs holds grave dangers if car- 
ried too far. 

Very early in her time of prosperity Nantucket be- 
gan to develop a rather high type of civilization and 
culture. The sea produced much wealth, and prosperity 
beyond the ordinary was quite general. There were not 
many millionaires, though the whaling business did 
make a few such, but many individual fortunes running 
into the hundreds of thousands were acquired, and that 
was great wealth for the time. It was no unusual thing 
for a captain to retire with a competency after a few 
successful voyages while still well under middle age; 


and the ship owners who had several ships out at once 
often cleared enough to retire on in a very few j'ears 
when matters went well with their ventures. 

Some costly and beautiful homes of dignity and 
good taste were built by many of the more fortunate 
and successful of these merchants and captains, and a 
fine sense of public spirit and civic interest was shown 
by many of them in the intervals of their money grub- 
bing, to the great profit and advantage of the town in 
many ways. 

Their children were usually given every advantage 
which money could buy, and great store was set by ed- 
ucation and the encouragement of literature and the 
arts. The lyceum flourished here in the mid-century 
period as in few tov»fns of its size, and the people heard 
the best of the lecturers, public speakers and read- 
ers of the day. In fact, all those finer and higher 
ideals which make for the amenities of life were culti- 
vated by these people in the midst of their active busi- 
ness life and interests. 

The result was that, by the latter half of the nine- 
teenth century, this little town had evolved a type of 
society rarely to be found outside of a large city, and 
one that would compare favorably with that in many 
much larger centers. Cultivated visitors to the island 
at that period were invariably impressed with and fre- 
quently remarked upon this quite unexpected general 
culture and refinement of the people in their social re- 

It is not the purpose of this writer to enumerate 
or even to mention by name any of the very large num- 


ber of men and women of Nantucket birth or parentage 
who have achieved eminence and distinction in many of 
the walks of life in the larger world outside. The list 
is so large that the limitations of a work of this char- 
acter preclude an extended treatment of the subject ; 
and justice cannot be done to it in a too hasty sum- 
mary. Moreover, it has been quite exhaustively consid- 
ered in some of the works referred to in the preface to 
this volume, to which the reader is referred. Suffice it 
to say, however, that it is doubtful if any other place of 
its size in our country can boast of a greater number 
of sons and daughters who have, in one way or another, 
made their mark in the world. 

So, of many of the thrilling incidents in tha an- 
nals of the whaling, such as the loss of the ship Essex, 
which was stove and sunk by an angry whale, the story 
of the mutiny on the ship Globe, and the sufferings of 
the survivors, which has been published in a book by 
itself, the loss of the Oeno and the deaths of all her 
crew save one, at the hands of the cannibals in the Fiji 
islands — these and many more can only be hinted at 
here as suggesting the romance and peril of the life, 
requiring the pen of a Kipling or a Stevenson to do 
them anything approaching justice. 

Through the enterprise of Peter C. Ewer, the 
"camels" were introduced in Nantucket in the year 
1842. These were a sort of floating dry-dock, by 
means of which vessels drawing too much water to 
cross the bar were lifted bodily and floated over the 
shoal places. They were built of wood in a shape to 
fit the hull of a ship, like a cradle, and were in two 


parts, held together by heavy chains, with water-tight 
compartments in the hull of each part. When the com- 
partments were allowed to fill, the camels settled low 
enough in the water for the ship to be floated in, rest- 
ing on the chains under her keel. The chains were then 
"hove taut" and secured, the water pumped out by 
powerful steam pumps, and the camels, bearing the 
ship, rose till the whole outfit drew only a few feet of 
water, and could easily be towed over the bar. The 
ship Constitution was the first to be "cameled," and 
several others were afterward handled successfully, but 
for some reason which has never been quite satisfactor- 
ily explained, their use was abandoned after a few 

For some time prior to this, it had been the cus- 
tom for many of the deeper draught ships to load and 
discharge at Edgartown, on Martha's Vineyard, passing 
the bar "light." With the example constantly be- 
fore her, and in view of the large profits then being 
made in the business, it is rather difficult to understand 
why Edgartown, with her superior facilities, did not 
engage in whaling to a greater extent. 

One of the tragedies in the history of the island 
occurred in 1844, when, on the night of February 21, 
the buildings on the poor farm, then located at Quaise, 
caught fire and were burned to the ground, ten of the 
inmates losing their lives. 

In 1845, The Nantucket Weekly Mirror was start- 
ed, surviving until 1865, when it was merged with 
The Inquirer — which had been established in 1821 — 
under the title of The Inquirer and Mirror. This news- 


paper has since flourished, and has just celebrated the 
fiftieth anniversary of the merger. Many other news- 
papers have been established at different periods in 
Nantucket's history, and have flourished for a longer 
or shorter time, as related in an interesting way in a 
chapter in Dr. Lithgow's book, written by Harry B. 
Turner, the present editor of The Inquirer and Mirror. 

"The Great Fire," as it has ever since been called 
by Nantucketers, occurred on July 13, 184G. This dis- 
astrous conflagration, which started in the block at the 
corner of Main and Union streets, near where the post- 
office is now located, destroyed almost all of the main 
business section of the town, as well as many resi- 
dences. Over three hundred buildings in all were con- 
sumed, and the area burned over covered upward of thir- 
ty acres, extending from Main and Centre streets north 
and east across Broad and Federal to a point on North 
Water street, and to the harbor front. The property 
loss amounted to over a million dollars. Many families 
and small store-keepers lost practically everything they 
possessed, and the blow was one from which the town 
never fully recovered, coming, as it did, at a time when 
the whaling business had already begun to decline. 
Large contributions were received from sympathizers 
abroad, to relieve the suffering and destitution result- 
ing from the catastrophe, and in less than a year the 
burned area was cleared and opened and largely rebuilt 
— most of the buildings being much better than those 
which had been destroyed. 

In the rebuilding the north line of lower Main 
street was relocated. Before the fii'e this line trended 


more to the south of east than at present, being prac- 
tically an extension of the line of Liberty street, and 
the lower square was much narrower. The new street 
line was placed some twenty feet further north, mak- 
ing the business section more rectangular in shape. 
Other changes in street lines were also made, and 
marble slabs were set at the street corners as monu- 
ments. Some of these slabs have long since disap- 
peared, and the figures on others have been worn away 
by the tread of the populace during nearly seventy 
years. There are one or two, however, upon which 
the figures are still legible, and to those who realize 
their meaning, these marble squares near the street 
corners serve as a forcible reminder of the strenuous 
period through which Nantucket passed in 1846. 




From an old daguerreotype. 



^iO many causes contributed, in a greater or lesser 
^^ degree, to the decline of Nantucket as a whaling 
port, that a long chapter in this book might well be 
devoted to their enumeration and explanation, but the 
story would not be an interesting one — since failure 
never appeals to us like success, and only a brief space 
will therefore be devoted to the mention of a few of 
the more important reasons for the loss of the business. 
First and foremost, perhaps, should be placed the 
scarcity of whales, or, at least, of those of the sperma- 
ceti species, for even then Nantucketers did not take 
kindly to right whaling, though, owing to the increas- 
ing use and advancing price of whalebone, New Bed- 
ford was making good profits from this branch of the 
business. Sperm whales, however, had been over-hunt- 
ed, and were getting more and more scarce and difficult 
to obtain every year after 1840. This necessitated a 
constant increase in the size of the ships and the num- 
ber of men in the crews, as well as in the length of 
the voyages, thus reducing the profits. The great fire 
of 1846 crippled the industry locally at a most critical 
time in its history. The introduction of petroleum as 
an illuminant greatly reduced the demand for oil and 
candles; it was better for the purpose and much cheap- 


er, and soon superseded the use of sperm and whale oil 
entirely — thus forcing down the selling price of the 
latter at the very time when it was costing more to 

The great rush to California in 1849 took hun- 
dreds of able-bodied men from Nantucket, no less 
than fourteen ahips sailing from the island bound for 
the Golden Gate in that one year alone, all oflRcerad and 
manned by Nantucketers and carrying many more as 
passengers. Others in large numbers went from other 
ports or started overland for the same destination. 
Even before the California exodus, when the whaling 
first began to fail, there had been some considerable 
emigration to the middle West, large groups of Nan- 
tucketers migrating in a body to points in Ohio, Indi- 
Hna and elsewhere. The many advantages possessed by 
New Bedford in the matter of deeper water, proximity 
to markets and better transportation facilities, all mil- 
itated in her favor, enabling her at last to beat Nan- 
tucket at the latter 's own game, and gradually to get 
control of the bulk of what whaling business there was 
left. All these things and many more, coming practi- 
cally all at once, were too much even for tlie indomit- 
able pluck and spirit of Nantucket whalemen, which 
had been tested and proved so many times before; and 
though they did not give up without a hard struggle, 
making several attempts to revive the industry and 
continue the up-hill light, the final result was inevi- 
table. They were doomed from the start. 

So by 1850 the population had already dropped 
over a thousand, to 8,779, and during the next two 


decades the loss in population averaged over a thousand 
each five years. Coincident with the decline in whal- 
ing, the Society of Friends now dwindled very rapidly 
in numbers, most of the younger generation breaking 
away from the faith of their fathers, and though a con- 
siderable group remained faithful even unto death, the 
discipline and authority were greatly relaxed as time 
went on, in the hope of holding more of the young peo- 
ple. But it was too late to stem the tide, which was 
already running strongly worldward, and toward the 
last quarter of the century only a pathetic little group 
gathered on First and Fifth Days, where once had been 
hundreds and even thousands. 

The many pines scattered about the island are de- 
scendants of groves planted by Josiah Sturgis in 1847. 
In 1851 and 1852 Charles G. and Henry Coffin planted 
the elms on Main street, which to this day add much to 
the beauty and comfort of that thoroughfare. 

In 1854 gas lighting was first introduced, and in 
the same year "Our Island Home," as it is now 
called, was erected, the main part of the building hav- 
ing been moved from Quaise to the new location at the 
southerly end of Orange street. The present high 
school building on Academy hill was erected in 1856. 

By 1860 the population had dropped to about six 
thousand. Six whalers sailed that year. 

Then came the Civil war. Any dereliction of 
which Nantucket may be accused, justly or unjustly, in 
the two wars with England, she more than made up in 
the great struggle to preserve the Union. Two hun- 
dred and thirteen men from the island served in the 


Northern armies, and a hundred and twenty-six entered 
the navy of the United States — the total in the two 
services aggregating fifty-six more than her quota, 
thus earning her the enviable record of "the banner 
town of the Commonwealth." It is known also that 
scores, if not hundreds, of former Nantucketers en- 
listed from other parts of the country during the four 
years of the great conflict. Many sons of the island 
distinguished themselves and won honors and promotion 
in both branches of the service, and many gave their 
lives to the cause and were buried in the fields of the 
Southland, which they had helped to redeem. 

in 1868 the barque R. L. Barstow, the last whale- 
ship owned in Nantucket, sailed for the Pacific, and on 
November 15th, 1869, the Oak, the very last to sail, 
left port. Neither of these ships ever returned to Nan- 

On May 30, 1870, the barque Amy, Captain Joseph 
Winslow, arrived with thirteen hundred and fifty bar- 
rels of sperm, and a fortnight later, on June 14, the 
brig Eunice H. Adams, Captain Zenas Coleman, came 
in, thus ending the history of Nantucket as a whaling 

The census of 1870 showed a population of four 
thousand one hundred and twenty-three — a losa of near- 
ly sixty per cent, in thirty years, and during the next 
five years there was a falling off of nearly a thousand 
more. This was the period of lowest ebb in the affairs 
of Nantucket, and the people were not to be blamed if 
they felt greatly depressed and discouraged in contem- 
plating the gloomy outlook for the future. 


Real estate was practically unsalable. Good 
houses, with fair-sized lots of land, could be bought for 
a few hundred dollars. The writer personally knows 
of several well-located estates which would bring sev- 
eral thousand today, having been sold as low as from 
two to three hundred dollars in the early seventies. 
Many houses were taken down in sections, shipped 
across the sound, and re-erected at points on the Cape. 

Except for the fishing — which, with cod and had- 
dock around two cents a pound or less, cured, was not 
very profitable — and one or two small manufacturing 
industries which were tried for a time without much 
success, there was nothing to do. Wages were very 
low and active, able-bodied men of fair education were 
glad to be employed at a dollar a day. Many families 
reluctantly left the island to seek elsewhere the oppor- 
tunities which were denied them here. A large number 
sought employment in the shoe factories at Brockton 
and other towns in that vicinity. Most of the young 
men, on completing the school course, were forced to 
go to the mainland, as there was no career open to 
them at home which offered any promise. So, after 
a time, the population consisted largely of women and 
old men, and to the younger women the prospect of 
marriage was dubious at the best, though be it said 
to their credit, and to that of their training, that many 
were sought in marriage by appreciative and discrimi- 
nating young men who visited the island — usually to 
the mutual advantage of both of the contracting par- 

The old folks worked on as best they could, living 


over again in memory "the good old times'' of the isl- 
and's prosperity and glory, but the young people who 
remained had not even that consolation. They had no 
past to recall, little to interest them in the present, 
and no outlook for the future. 

It was a bad state of affairs all round, and if it had 
not happened that just about that time the American 
people began to acquire the vacation habit, the proba- 
bilities are that our old town would soon have been al- 
most entirely depopulated. 


AS this is the story of the old rather than of the 
new Nantucket, it is not proposed to dwell at 
length on that part of her history succeeding the de- 
cline of her maritime importance. Up to this point 
the book is a chronicle of events which had been record- 
ed and described by others. It remains only to relate 
briefly some of the more important happenings within 
the limits of the writer's own memory. Here he meets 
the competition of other memories, more retentive, 
perhaps, than his own, and aided, it may be, by memo- 
randa made at the time of the occurrences, which he, 
having but recently acquired the recording habit, is 
not so fortunate as to possess. 

Moreover, as every historian soon realizes, the 
lapse of time is necessary to a proper historical per- 
spective. Affairs which seem of some importance when 
they occur are quite likely to be forgotten by the next 
generation, while some apparently trifling and insignif- 
icant event may stand out later as of paramount inter- 
est in its relation to the general narrative of those 
happenings which preceded or followed it. 

The writer can vaguely remember the arrival of 
the barque Amy, mentioned in the preceding chapter, 
and he recalls being lifted aboard that old whaler and 


walking about her oil-soaked decks. He remembers 
dimly that the occasion seemed to hold something of 
sadness for the owner of the paternal hand he clasped 
so tightly, but it was many years after that before 
the significance of the experience dawned upon his con- 

Soon after that tiine he recalls that, during "the 
long vacation" there were more or less people about 
the town who went by the name of "strangers." They 
wore better, or at least more showy, clothes than most 
of the townspeople, and they were gayer and more noisy. 
They called the commons "moors," and everything 
was "quaint." What interested him most, however, 
was that they would buy pond-lilies at two-for-a-cent. 
and sugared flag-root at five cents a bunch, so the 
town boys, who valued but lightly such easily-procura- 
ble commodities, exchanged them for pennies and nick- 
els, and waxed prosperous. The current quotation for 
running "errants" soon advanced from a penny to a 
nickel, or even as much as a dime on occasion. 

This is not exactly history, but it is that phase of 
the subject which made the strongest impression on 
the writer along in the seventies, and it meant that the 
summer vacationists had discovered Nantucket, rescued 
her from decay and oblivion, and given her a new lease 
of life. 

When the David Thain house on Main street, near- 
ly opposite Fair street, was being built, it was quite 
generally predicted that it would probably be the last 
house ever built on Nantucket. That was only about 
forty years ago, yet within a very few years carpenters 


from "off- island" had to be sent for to keep up with 
the building boom, and the number of houses on the 
island has perhaps doubled since then. Soon horse hire 
jumped from a dollar a day to three or four, and a cat- 
boat, with services of skipper and mate, brought in the 
fabulous revenue of eight dollars for a single day! The 
old town began to spruce up, houses, barns and fences 
were repaired and painted, and something like prosper- 
ity dawned once more. Then, in '74, there were two 
boats a day all summer, instead of only one; new hotels 
were built or projected, old mansion houses were turned 
into boarding houses, and at the height of the season 
all were filled to capacity. On some days "excursions" 
were run on the Monohansett or the old Granite State, 
and the strangers filled the streets of the old town and 
over-ran into the lanes and alleys. And one day in 
August President Grant came down to see what it was 
all about, and was driven through the principal streets 
in an open barouche, the observed of all observers. 

In '74 we watched with awe the raising of the 
stupendous monolith which forms the shaft of our sol- 
dier's monument, and Monument Square was christened 
in a day. In the summer of '76 we had a steamer of 
our own, the Island Belle, running to Wauwinet twice 
everyday. Two years later the "water-works, " an 
unheard of innovation, were started, and the next year 
we all had running water right in the house, and did 
not have to go to the pump any more; though, as the 
croakers said, there were plenty of pumps, not to men- 
tion cistern?, and Moses Joy, Jr., who was a Nantuck- 
eter himself, must be crazy to think we needed water 


works; "and how was he going to make water run up 
hill, anyhow?" But the croakers didn't know about 
"the rezzevoy" then. 

Then (wonder of wonders!) in 1880 there was talk 
of a railroad. And another Nantucketer, "Phil" Fol- 
ger, was connected with that. We took no stock in it, 
literally or figuratively, but it was actually built, nev- 
ertheless, and opened to Surfside in '81, in spite of 
the insuperable difficulties of that mighty engineering 
feat, the crossing of the Goose Pond on an embankment 
— which simply "couldn't be done, and that's all there 
was about it," for, as everyone knew, "the Goose 
Pond had no bottom, and the stuff would settle faster'n 
they could dump it in there." 

A big hotel was built at Surfside, and everyone 
who had the price, and some who didn't, bought one or 
more building lots in thaf prospective summer city by 
the sea, which (alas!) never materialized. And in 
August came the great Coffin Reunion, when the Coffins 
from all over the world came back to the home of their 
great progenitor, Tristram, and celebrated for days. 
And the great iron horse on the little "narrow gouge," 
which had been christened "Dionis," in honor of Tris- 
tram's good wife, (several times great-grandmother of 
all the members of the clan) puffed and chugged, and 
drew them all over to Surfside, where a monster clam- 
bake was served ; and there were speeches, and a band, 
and dancing, and a baseball game, and much feasting 
and merry-making and excitement — (juite like an old- 
time Shearing Day. 

That was a great year, '81, for at last the jetty, 


which had been talked of for a hundred years, more or 
less, and which was going to make Nantucket harbor a 
great port of refuge for storm-bound vessels, was start- 
ed, and we walked over to Cliff beach, and saw the 
great derricks dumping big rocks overboard from the 
barges, apparently without purpose. 

The next summer President Arthur came, and was 
hailed as the chief. In '83 the big boom at Brant Point 
was on, and the old Atlantic Hall building on Main 
street, which had been Quaker meeting-house, straw 
works. Town Hall, wood-working shop, dance hall, 
skating rink, and many other things in its day, was 
moved down onto the Point to become a part of the 
great new Hotel Nantucket, which, it was believed, 
would be the leading hotel of the island. But fate 
decreed otherwise, for it never succeeded; and a few 
years later old Atlantic Hall went back to town and 
landed in a new place — where the old billiard-hall and 
bowling alley used to be on South Water street. Now 
it is a "movie" theatre and a lodge room, and at times 
once more serves the purpose of a town hall. The 
checkered history of this classic structure deserves a 
chapter all to itself, but space forbids. 

In '84 the railroad was extended to Siasconset, 
which, during the preceding decade, had had a boom of 
its own, and had been growing even faster, proportion- 
ately, than the town itself. On the day the first pas- 
senger trains were run, July 8th, there was a big cele- 
bration of the event in the "patch-work village," as 
someone has called old 'Sconset. 

And so the summer population grew and grew, 


until by and by it was said there were probably as 
many people on the island at times as in the palmy days 
of the early forties, \vhen the ten thouasnd mark was 

The three thousand or so of the permanent popula- 
tion now had plenty to do in summer, catering to these 
other thousands, who came with money to exchange for 
the things which Nantucket offered. Every winter 
more new cottages were built, furnishing employment 
for mechanics and laborers. Real estate values were 
climbing again, and estates which could hardly have 
been given away in the late sixties and early seventies 
now became very valuable. Old places in the town were 
bought and made over, and rents were unbelievably 
high. Houses which had formerly rented for five dol- 
lars a month now brought five hundred for a single 
summer. H they had a good view, even a thousand 
was not unusual, just for three months' use. 

But the winters dragged, and there was still much 
unemployment for part of every year. The summers 
were short and a long way apart, and three thousand 
people could not live on three months' business. Then, 
all at once, it seemed, someone discovered that scallops 
were good to eat, and would bring a good price in New 
York. The flats and shoal waters round the island were 
fairly covered with these heretofore despised bivalves, 
and the writer actually remembers having been threat- 
ened with an emetic by an anxious parent on his con- 
fession that, with several other boys, he had that day 
roasted and eaten a lot of "the nasty things" down on 
Brant Point. He cfTcctcd a compromise on tincture of 


rhubarb, but as no unfavorable symptoms developed, he 
knew that the nasty things were good to eat; and finally 
the world at large awoke to the fact. 

This gave many Nantucket men a new winter oc- 
cupation, and since those days hundreds of thousands 
of gallons of "eyes" have been shipped from the isl- 
and, bringing hundreds of thousands of dollars of good 
money to the tov/nspeople. 

Of the events recorded in this chapter up to this 
point the writer may truly say "all of which I saw, 
and part of which I was," but in 3 885, like most of 
his contemporaries, on approaching manhood, he emi- 
grated to America; and though, in the thirty years 
which have since passed, he has returned to the island 
as often as circumstances would permit, and remained 
as long as possible each time, keeping always in fairly 
close touch with its concerns, the few succeeding pages 
must of necessity be somewhat less autobiographical, 
and the information imparted must have been obtained 
largely at second hand. 

A few of the more notable events during the past 
generation may be summed up briefly. 

Several attempts to connect the island with the 
mainland by telegraphic cable had been made at vari- 
ous times, dating as far back as 1840, but none had 
been permanently successful until the U. S. govern- 
ment cable was finally completed in 1886, preliminary 
to the establishment of a Weather Bureau station, 
which, owing to the location of the island, has proved 
of great importance and value to the service. The ca- 
ble has since been sold to private parties, and it has 


been maintained with few interruptions since its in- 

Electric lights were introduced in 1889 by a pri- 
vate company, and the gas and electric services were 
later combined under one ownership, financed largely 
by local capital. 

The following year a street car line was laid from 
Main street to the Steamboat wharf, and also to Hotel 
Nantucket, on Brant point, and as far as the Sea Cliff 
hotel, on Cliff road. Although the system was operat- 
ed for two seasons, the project was a financial failure, 
and the "horse cars" passed on. 

In 1894 three important events occurred. The 
"State Road" to Siasconset was started, Nantucket se- 
curing one of the first appropriations under the act 
passed at that time establishing the Massachusetts 
Board of Highway Commissioners, and beginning the 
construction of first class roads and boulevards under 
state control and supervision. The Nantucket Histori- 
cal Association, which has long since amply justified 
its existence in preserving so much of historic interest, 
was organized in that year; and by a curious coinci- 
dence the Sons and Daughters of Nantucket, a purely 
social organization, holding an annual dinner and re- 
union in Boston in the autumn, was started at about the 
same time, largely through the efforts of Alexander 
Starbuck, of Waltham, its first president, and now pres- 
ident of the Historical Association. 

On July 9, 10, and 11, 1895, the centennial of 
the change of the town's name from Sherburne to Nan- 
tucket was celebrated by appropriate exercises and fe»- 


tivities. The Nantucket railroad was rebuilt by a more 
direct route to Siasconaet in that year. 

In the closing years of the century the last sur- 
viving members of the Society of Friends died, Wil- 
liam Hosier, the last male Quaker in 1899, and Eunice 
Paddock, the last Quakeress, in 1900. 

The twentieth century has so far brought few 
changes of note. The summer business has grown 
steadily, and though there have been good seasons and 
seasons which were not so good, there has been no 
really bad season, and the fluctuations from year to 
year are only such as might normally be expected. 
The fame of the island as a summer resort is spreading 
constantly, and thousands of people from all over the 
country, representing every state in the Union, now seek 
out the "little purple island" every summer. Many 
acquire the habit of coming back year after year, and 
of lingering a little later into each autumn — that most 
glorious of all the seasons here. 

There is comparatively little of the ostentation and 
display characteristic of most fashionable summer re- 
sorts to be found here, and the social life is quite sim- 
ple and unaffected, though many of the regular cottage 
colony are people of wealth and social standing. 

The bathing, boating, yachting, fishing and other 
salt water sports and pleasures are among the chief at- 
tractions to many. Driving, riding or walking over the 
moors to the various little villages and points of inter- 
est about the island are a source of never ending enjoy- 
ment to others. Golf links at both town and 'Sconset 
are extremely popular, the nature of the courses, as 


well as the remarkable climate, being particularly fa- 
vorable to the enjoyment of this sport. For, when all 
is said, it is perhaps the climate which is Nantucket's 
greatest asset. As compared with most places on the 
mainland, it may be fairly said that really hot weather 
is unknown. The average range of temperature in 
summer is from ten to twenty degrees lower than at 
almost any other point this side of the Rocky Moun- 
tains in anything like the same latitude, and as there 
is almost always a breeze, and "every breeze is a sea- 
breeze", out-of-door sports may always be enjoyed 
with zest. The nights are always cool. 

In 1901 a wireless telegraph plant was established 
at Siasconset by the New York Herald — the first estab- 
lished in America — to report passing ships via the 
Nantucket lightship, over forty miles off shore, on 
v^hich a duplicate equipment was installed. Later the 
Marconi Company, which made the installations for the 
Herald, took over the land plant, and the government 
took the station on the lightship. 

In 1902 the Nantucket Maria Mitchell Association 
was founded, and the birthplace of this eminent daugh- 
ter of the island, who held the professorship of astron- 
omy at Vassar College from 18G5 to 1888, was pur- 
chased. A few years later an observatory was built, in 
which the five-inch telescope formerly owned and used 
by the astronomer was installed. The Association now 
has over five hundred members, and maintains the 
birthplace, in which are housed valuable botanical, en- 
tomological and other scientific collections, as a memo- 
rial to Miss Mitchell. 


In 1903, the Coflin School, which had been closed 
for some years, was re-opened as a manual training 
school, and the income from its endowment is now used 
to furnish a course in the manual arts to all pupils of 
the public schools. The Coffin School Association was 
formed in that year to work toward increasing the en- 
dowment and extending the usefulness of the institu- 
tion, and a substantial amount has already been added 
to the fund. 

In 1905 the Nantucket Athletic Club completed 
and opened its fine new club house, which not only fur- 
nishes a convenient centre for the social activities of 
the summer colony, but is in frequent use by the resi- 
dent members and their friends during the dull months 
of the fall, winter and spring. 

In 1907 an up-to-date electric fire alarm system 
was installed by the town, replacing the century old 
custom of maintaining night-watchmen in the South 
tower to alarm the town by ringing the bell on the dis- 
covery of an incipient fire. 

The two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the 
settlement of the island was celebrated by the Histori- 
cal Association in 1909 — the principal event being a 
largely-attended banquet with appropriate exercises, 
held at the Sea CHIT Inn on the evening of July 2l3t. 

The death of "Billy" Clark, the last of Nantuck- 
et's town criers, on August 17th, 1909, marked the 
passing of a characteristic and time-honored institution 
in the island's history. 

It is perhaps too soon to write the history of Nan- 
tucket's now famous fight over the admission or exclu- 


sion of motor-vehicles, which has been waged for sev- 
eral years. Some future historian, further removed 
from the animosities 'engendered by the controversy, 
can probably do the subject greater justice than any 
writer of today. Just at present the "antis" have 
rather the best of it, but the "pros" have by no means 
given up the fight, and are confident of ultimate vic- 
tory. While the present writer is convinced that more 
would be lost than gained by the admission of automo- 
biles at this time, he grants that there is something to 
be said on both sides. 

During the past few years the Federal government 
has carried on extensive dredging operations on Nan- 
tucket bar, and there is now a minimum depth of fifteen 
feet in the channel at mean low water. This has been 
supplemented by work done at state expense in deepen- 
ing the anchorage ground in the inner harbor, and con- 
ditions are greatly improved. 

The fishing industry of the island has been very 
prosperous in recent years. Though the season of 1914- 
15 was somewhat disappointing to the scallop fisher- 
men, as compared with normal years, it is not believed 
that the check is permanent. Owing to the compara- 
tively high prices which have prevailed for cod and had- 
dock, the spring and fall fishing in dories on the shoals 
off 'Sconset and Surfside has been quite profitable. But 
the quahaug and flounder fisheries have been the great- 
est revenue producers of late. An immense and appar- 
ently inexhaustible bed of quahaugs was located off the 
north side of the island about two years ago, from 
which a large fleet of sloops, small schooners, steamers 


and power boats have since been reaping a rich harvest. 
A few of these craft are owned in the town, but most 
of them are "off-ialand" boats, which make their head- 
quarters here during the fishing season, and ship their 
catch by the local steamers. Several hundred barrels 
are shipped every day during the season when conditions 
are favorable for prosecuting the industry, and a ship- 
ment of well over a thousand barrels in a single day is 
by no means unusual. The market has been over- 
stocked much of the time during the past year, and 
prices have ruled very low, reducing the profits materi- 
ally, but there are still many boats engaged in the 
work. Large schools of flounders come on the beds in 
late winter and early spring to feed on the quahaugs 
which are broken by the heavy dredges used, and im- 
mense fares of these fish have been taken both "out- 
side the bar" and on the shoals east of Great Point, by 
dredging. One shipment of nearly fifteen hundred bar- 
rels made during the present spring consisted almost 
entirely of flounders. 

The most important event of the present year to 
date is the complete rebuilding of the Steamboat 
wharf, which was in a very bad state of repair, very 
inconveniently arranged and over-crowded. The steam- 
boat company has done a fine piece of work, and the 
passenger and freight arrangements are greatly im- 
proved, while accommodations are at last provided for 
the fishing fleet at a point convenient for direct ship- 
ment of the catch. 

In reading over these pages, the writer realizes 
with keen regret how much has been omitted. The 


story of the schools and their teachers, the churches 
and their pastors, lodges and societies, light-houses 
and light-ships, wrecks and the life-saving service, 
town-criera, steamboats, land booms, good and bad, and 
many other subjects of great interest, have been scarce- 
ly touched upon; and little old 'Sconset has been sadly 
neglected ; but most of these matters have been fully 
treated in other works, and many of them have had, as 
they deserve, a book of their own written about them; 
so the reader who is interested in any one or all of 
these subdivisions of the general subject will find a rich 
field for his enjoyment and information. The puri)ose 
was to write a short history of not over a hundred pag- 
es, and the temptation to expand has been reai-ted only 
with effort. No reader can more keenly appreciate the 
shortcomings of the book than can its author, yet in 
spite of all, his one hope is that the reader may enjoy 
the reading as much as he has the writing cf "'The 
Story of Old Nantucket." 



i: 1 ii . 




014 076 411 5 

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